Monday, November 9, 2015

Books Celebrating the Heroes of War

 Since Vietnam, there seems to have been a negative trend of not honoring military heroes and wars.  To be perfectly honest,  war is brutal.  It is horrific. Yet, this is not the fault of the veterans. They are simply men and women who served, doing the best that they can in the situation they find themselves.  More often than not, the details in books and movies simply do not do justice to the realities they face.     Most veterans returning home rarely want to share what they experienced because of the trauma.  Having said that,  sometimes war is a necessary evil.  When there are men like Hitler,  Mao and Lenin who have destroyed lives for their own political gains something must be done to stop them.   During these harrowing times,  there are stories that come forth to show the power of the human spirit to overcome darkness that sheds light on good men and women.    The stories give us hope that no matter how bad life is at the moment,  the sacrifice and suffering of today may lead to a better tomorrow.

One such story that captures good overcoming evil is Col. Larry Guarino's   A P.O.W.'s Story: 2801 Days in Hanoi  This is a story of inspirational hope against all odds. Guarino's fellow prison mates at the Hanoi Hilton, as it was affectionally became known as, were inspired by his messages that he transmitted through the floors in morse code.   Not only that, but during his time in Hanoi, he never lost his hope or humor.     This may be what saved him and his prison mates. As the reader turns the pages, questions of how this man withstood the torture keeps recurring in the mind. A harder question to answer,  would the reader be able to endure such horror?   A must read.

In 2006,  Bill Sloan reintroduced readers to  the mostly forgotten battle in World War II.  In Brotherhood of Heroes : The marines at Peleliu, 1944 -- The bloodiest Battle  of the Pacific War    Sloan interviewed the veterans of Peleliu , enabling him to pull together the story, or rather the nightmare that these men experienced between September 15 and October 15, 1944.   One of the most accurate description of combat that does not gloss over the emotions of what it means to fight for one's country and one's life.   By the end of this book, the reader will not be able to help but have a deeper appreciation and respect for the men and women who wear the Marine uniform.

Mitchell Zuckoff is not a novice when it comes to gripping, harrowing  stories of military bravery.  His book Lost in Shangri-La  prepared him to tell the story of the brave men of the Untied States Coast Guard who  braved the vast Arctic wilderness to attempt a daring rescue.   Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II  recounts the story of a US cargo plane that crashed into the Greenland Ice Cap on November 5, 1942.  During the first rescue of the survirs a Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a storm and vanished.   Normally a book such as this would end with how the survivors have gone on with their lives..  Not this one.  Bringing readers to the present day,   Zuckoff details  the efforts of  the Coast Guard and North South Polar solve the mystery of what happened  tot he Duck's last flight and recover the remains of the crew.   Were they successful?  Pick up the book and find out.

These are just three very well written books that vividly retell the story of heroism, sacrifice and sense of honor.  Without a doubt, these books will make an impact on how a reader views the military and it's contribution to history.  For better or for worse, the men and women who have defended our country against all odds deserve gratitude and respect.  It goes without saying that a special acknowledgement of gratitude to the authors who have shared the stories so well. 

Veteran's Day  is on November 11th.  There are so many more stories to share, thankfully it is early in the week.  Needless to say, there will be more to come. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Death of A Library

There are times when it is better to say nothing and decide that there are better battles to fight.  This is not one of those times.  This is the time to actually say what needs to be said and let the battle begin.  It has become quite evident common sense is no longer common, in particular  when it comes to libraries and library closing.  Another way to describe it, a death of a library.    It's not pretty.  Not by a long shot and yet in the year 2015 when our "culture" has become better educated,  creative with new technology and willing to adapt to the changes that come, there are too many stories of library either crumbling or closing the doors for good.  Why?  What purpose does this satisfy?

Since 2010, there has been a steady stream of library closings due to budget cuts.  Most of the libraries were in cities that economic times had hit the hardest.  Sadly, what can be said if the financial support in a community dries up.  Even sadder is when that happens the soul of the community dries up along with it.  Yes, the library is the heart and soul of a community.  It is what keeps a community stable and growing.  In 2010,  OCLC produced a publication entitled "Perceptions of the Library."  During the Great Recession it was found that more citizens sought to change their lives by returning to school.   Community Colleges across the country witnessed an increase in student enrollment, and it was not only 18-23 year olds who sought to increase their knowledge and skill base,  students in their late 40's were returning to class to update skills in hopes of landing a better job or begin a second career.   Libraries witnessed an increase in usage as well.  As history has always shown us,  libraries play a critical role in communities  during down economic times.  So again, why close the doors to a service that is needed?

It is a bit of an oxymoron  for leaders to say that communities cannot afford a library because of the cost but in the same breath announce that they are all for educated society.  If education is high on their list, then asking for financial support to keep libraries open would not be a discussion.  Rather the shift in the discussion would be to find ways to keep the doors open.  Sadly more often than not the discussions are closed and decisions have been made.  Doors are shut.  Citizens begin to wonder why the community is on it's last legs.   It's not an exaggeration to point out that the absence of libraries leave a void in the community that can not be filled or replaced.

A death of a library begins with a drop in property tax base.  Next are the budget cuts which leads to fewer new books, databases,  computers and more importantly staff.   One can imagine the next step of desperate fundraising events and awareness to save the library.   When the  financial fundraising dries up as well, it is only a matter of time before officials begin to put a timeline together for when books, shelves, circulation desks, and all of the libraries assets are to be sold or consolidated into other departments.  Sometimes, as in the case of a county library which served as the backup for local municipalities, the death is harder to take.  Not only is the library dismissed by the community but also by surrounding libraries who find it economical to be independent.   In either case, the saddest moment is when the doors are closed forever.  

Yes, the sound of libraries doors closing is quite similar to hearing a coffin closing.  It is hollow.  It echoes in the mind.  It is final.   This can not continue.    Libraries are worth saving, each and every one of them.