Conrad

Uncategorized May 16, 2013

This morning I visited a WW II veteran and his wife at their retirement community “Applewood” in bucolic South Amherst, a few miles south of Hampshire College.  Growing up, this area was known for two apple orchards, Atkins being the survivor and now prominent facility catering to the public in many more ways than just fruit off the tree.   Conrad’s name was given to me by the library curator as a good interviewee.  He was.  In spite of failing eyesight, he greeted me in the hallway and guided me into their lovely apartment.

“Connie”  talked of life before, during and after the war.   One of the things he added deep into our conversation was how the war changed women’s roles.  “After the war, there was no going back to women only staying at home.  In fact,” he chuckled,” raising three girls I had the last bit of chauvinism kicked out of me.”

Because of his work involved radio code, he was involved with the highest ranking officials in the US Army.   He met  General Eisenhower and President Truman.  “It was mostly this one fellow and myself who built the radios we used in Paris (later shifting to Frankfort Germany before the German army was completely routed from the city).   There were many times equipment failed and his intuitiveness and knowledge of radio science helped to keep lines of communication up and running.  “One day a sergeant appeared telling me to proceed to headquarters immediately,” he said. “I refused.  I was busy repairing a unit.  A few minutes later the phone rang with the same orders.  “I again told them to forget it and hung up.  I was an arrogant bastard,” he said laughing.  “Next thing I knew the Colonel called.  “You get your damn ass outside,” he barked.  “I’m sending a jeep over right.”  Whisked off in my fatigues, I was escorted to a room where awaiting me was a small reception. I was being awarded the Bronze Star for my work.

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For over three decades my profession was as an author and illustrator of children's books. Firefighters A to Z (McElderry Books/S&S) was chosen as a "Best Book" by the NY Times (2000). Over 100 titles are attached to my name. In 2011 my life changed the moment I saw a photo of a WW II fighter pilot. Nineteen year old Griffin Holland, P-47 pilot stood erect on the wheel of his plane, staring off into the distance, cocky as all get out. The need to paint that photo and Griff's tearful reaction to it as an 88 year old man set this journey in motion.

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