December 8, 2006
As a Marshall grad I’m naturally excited about the upcoming movie, “We Are Marshall,” and it’s getting some buzz now. In case you’re thinking that this is just another “football film,” you’d be wrong. Oprah Winfrey interviewed film star Matthew McConaughey on her Wednesday, December 6 show in which they showed some clips from the film that will come to the big screen on
Marshall lost most of its football team in a tragic jet liner crash in 1970. The nation mourned on that weekend, then seemingly forgot. Not so Marshall University and the city of Huntington, West Virginia. The school, as in many college towns, is an extension of the city, and that was true even back in the fifties when I was there. After the crash, city and university struggled through their grief together to rebuild their team and their confidence. That’s what this movie is about.
Justin McElroy, in an article for The Herald-Dispatch quoted Oprah. She said, "That movie got me. I was trying not to let it get me, but it got me. I was trying not to cry out loud, but it got me."
“We Are Marshall” opens December 22.
November 17, 2006
A photograph of Denali, taken in 2004, is being featured. Click on Featured Pictures in the sidebar or click here.
November 7, 2006
Ernie Tetrault sent me a photograph taken this summer at Alaska’s Veterans Memorial Park on the George Parks Highway. Ernie is looking at the memorial honoring the men who died in the crash of our C-47 in 1954. The photograph can be seen under Miscellaneous Photos in Gallery Pictures, or by clicking here.
October 19, 2006
When Touching the Ancient One received the 2006 Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Award for Biographies, I thought that merely receiving my frameable certificate in the mail would be sufficient. However, as I gave it more thought, I decided that going to San Diego to pick it up in person was what I really wanted to do. It wasn’t the idea that standing up in front of other authors and MWSA members (I don’t even like to do that) was reason enough for enduring the long trek and having to find my way around an unfamiliar city. What I really wanted was to meet other people who had also written books––had made the difficult journey from page one to the page that said, “the end.” They would know of my struggles and I would know theirs. We would connect in important ways, I thought.
And I was right. We weren’t very accessible to the public and I doubt that anyone went there with the illusion of selling large quantities of books. If they did, I think they missed the point. I only had a few in my backpack; I sold only one, but I gave some away and traded books with several other authors. In the act of trading we discussed our books with each other––and in some cases, our lives and families. That’s the bigger picture, in my opinion. I will follow their careers from this point on.
I judge that ninety percent or more of those attending the three-day event were either active or former military people, so the works were definitely slanted in that direction. When I wrote my book I didn’t think of it as a military book, but I see now how it fits in with the rest.
Bill McDonald, MWSA’s founder and president, is, as I suspected, bigger than life. His leadership, with the able assistance of Maria Edwards, put all this together. Bill realizes that there are stories that need to be told by the generations that experienced them, stories that may be lost if not for the encouragement of organizations like MWSA. I encourage everyone, military or not, writer or not, with an interest in history, to support this organization. You can join MWSA by clicking here.
October 12, 2006
The following story holds great significance for me. If you’ve read Touching the Ancient One, you know about the effort I put onto finding the families of the men who died in the February 5, 1954 crash of our Air Force C-47 in interior Alaska. Although I had success in most instances, there were gaps in my knowledge that were frustrating. We were contacted by family members of James M. Hill after the first reunion when his widow, Dolly Hill, saw the September 23rd People article. Finding David West-Watson shortly before the book went to press, or more accurately, his finding us, was a stroke of luck that made a good ending for the book.
Another family that always seemed just out of reach was that of Sgt. Jacob Siplivy. True, I had talked to a brother and a sister-in-law, but they were unable to give me much information. Then, a few weeks ago, I received a phone call from Peggy Kishlock of Johnstown, PA.
“I’m the daughter of Jacob Siplivy and I have two brothers, Bill and Jim,” she told me. “In addition, our mother is alive and well.”
Needless to say, we had a nice long conversation. Later, we exchanged email and made arrangements to meet for breakfast on September 23rd at Barboursville, West Virginia. Not only did Peggy and her brothers show up with their spouses, but their mother came too.
We already knew that Peggy and Dave Kishlock live in Johnstown, PA. During breakfast we learned that Jim and his wife, Luann, live there as well. Bill and his wife, Laura, live in Stow, Ohio. Both Jim and Bill are graduates of West Virginia University. Bill, who is a Marine Corps veteran, serving from 1966 to 1970, also holds an M.S. in Mining Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.
An hour and a half over breakfast at CrackerBarrell proved to be a wonderful experience for us all. Information from the Air Force had been lacking in 1954 and, even though I had not known Jacob personally, I was able to add some details about the accident that the Siplivy family appreciated. I believe that just being with one of the last people to see Jacob alive was meaningful to them. They really are a delightful family.
Below is information supplied by the family that I wish was in the book, but since that is impossible in the present edition, I’m putting it on this website, both as a journal entry and in Links of Interest which people can readily access. Jacob Siplivy’s photograph is in the C-47 Crash Victims folder in the Gallery Pictures link.
T/Sgt Jacob “Jay” Siplivy, son of John and Anna Siplivy, was born in Somerset County, PA on November 24, 1919. He joined the Army Air Force in 1942 and would go on to fly fifty bombing missions from Italy into Germany during WWII. Later, in 1946, while stationed in Erding, Germany, Jacob met and married Erna Stahleder of Vilsbiburg, Germany. After Jacob was discharged, the couple came to the United States with their oldest son, William. Jacob worked in the coal mines for a time, but dissatisfied with that, reenlisted back into the Air Force. Peggy was born at Scott AFB in Illinois and Jim was born at Shaw AFB in South Carolina. Other duty stations were Scott Pope AFB in North Carolina and Olmstead AFB in Middletown, PA. After being assigned to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, but before leaving for that frontier assignment, he moved his wife and children to Johnstown, PA until he could make other arrangements. Sadly, on February 5, 1954, he was aboard the ill-fated C-47. Erna raised her three children, with moral support from friends and family before marrying Paul Kaminski of Johnstown sixteen years after Jacob’s death.
Erna, still beautiful and vibrant, feels that, "Jay and I were blessed with three wonderful children." She shows great pride in what they have done with their lives. But she also cherishes her memories. She has a suitcase in her attic with Jacob’s medals, Air Force wings, letters, and wallet, along with many pictures. There are also newspaper clippings and telegrams about the accident. An additional treasure in the suitcase is a faded post card with Jacob’s last writing to his wife and children.
My thanks to the Siplivy family for sharing this information about another of our military heros. It reminds me of the men and women we met in Tom Brokow’s The Greatest Generation.
October 8, 2006
I grew up in Salt Rock, West Virginia, where my mother’s family had deep roots. That family is all gone now, but their friends, and mine, are still numerous. They came out in generous numbers on Saturday, September 23 to talk to Millie and me. Steve and Linda Sansom’s Chevron/Subway was a lively place from 10 to 2. My thanks to them for hosting our visit. Feeling my roots was a marvelous feeling.
Steve asked me if I’d be willing to speak to some classes at Salt Rock School on Wednesday Morning. I agreed even though we’d planned to leave for home early that morning. I’m very happy we did stay. We had a wonderful time with three groups of combined classes of third, fourth, and fifth graders. The students asked some of the best questions I’ve had since the publication of Touching the Ancient One. I was gratified to be able to teach them some history of their school as well. I was a first grader when the school opened in January 1939. I pointed out a large maple tree in the front yard and explained that it was the only remaining one of eight that had been dug up from the Guyandotte River banks and planted by three or four other boys and me in 1946. I’m very impressed with the educational atmosphere at Salt Rock School, and I love the Salt Rock Indians bag they gave me.
October 8, 2006
On September 27, 2006 our son Jonathan and his wife Bobbi presented Millie and me with our third grandchild. Andrew Peter Pratt weighed in at nine pounds, three and a quarter ounces. Good job, Kids!
Mom and Dad
October 6, 2006
On our way to West Virginia, Millie and I stayed overnight in western NY near the southern PA border. Next morning we traveled down Route 219. When we reached the city of Johnsonburg, PA, it dawned on me that Johnsonburg was James Hill’s hometown. As we went up a main street we saw a veterans memorial on the left, so we parked to look it over. On one of the marble panels along with hundreds of other names we spotted James M. Hill. We stayed several minutes enjoying the park-like atmosphere of the site, appreciative of the fact that the citizens of the Johnsonburg area have honored those who served in the military. Farther up the street on the right was the public library. It wasn’t open yet, but I dedicated a copy of Touching the Ancient One in honor of James Hill, and put it in the return slot. It’s not much, but it felt good to give back a little to Johnsonburg.
October 3, 2006
Millie and I have just returned from West Virginia after a two-week visit. We had several excellent adventures, a few of which I’ll write about over the next few days. We had two main reasons for going at this time: my high school reunion was one: the other was to have a book signing at Salt Rock, my “growing up place.”
September 5, 2006
Leslie Lowery, James "Bud" Hill's niece, sent me a photograph of him taken during World War II. Just a reminder that this soldier from Johnsonburg, PA served in two wars and was much decorated, including the Silver Star for Gallentry. His actions during battles saved lives. His words, an hour before his death, probably saved my life. Take a look at his youthful picture that I’ve placed in the Miscellaneous Photos module. Click here to see a hero—one of the ones we must never forget.