Tribute to a Soldier – Vernon F. Cummings
There is a stone set flat into the earth at Emery Cemetery east of Phillips, WI. An American flag waves alongside. Vernon F. Cummings it reads. October 7, 1919 to May 8, 1944. He was just over 24 years old.
Vernon was raised in Emery township, the son of Mr. and Mrs. James Cummings and in May of 1941 he married Marie ‘Mary’ Huml, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Huml, also of Emery.
Curly, as he was known, bravely answered the call to defend the world against the Nazi regime. His love of country and his love of family, one in the same. For a young man raised on a Wisconsin farm, the adventure the military life offered must have seemed heady indeed.
It was 1942 when he entered the Army and began his basic training in Florida. He then went on to the Armored Schools in California and Colorado before gunnery training in Nevada and Utah. With Mary at his side and their young daughter, Laverne, he completed his training at Riverside, California as a right waist gunner on a B24 Liberator.
Then in January of 1944, he left to join the fight overseas. Mary returned home to Emery to await his return and the birth of another child.
A mere two months later the Phillips Bee carried the headline, ‘Vernon Cummings Bags Nazi Plane,’ and quoted a story that had first run in the Milwaukee Sentinel. Family and friends bragged, “That’s our boy!” Mary was so proud. The crew of the Liberator had been flying back from Berlin, on their way to England, when they encountered a column of German fighters. They were praying one minute and cussing the next, the article said. Three Nazi planes were taken out that day. Curly claimed one of them. Safely back on England’s soil one can only imagine the celebration.
Then, a short month later, the Liberator came under surprise attack. They were flying over Brunswick, getting ready to turn for the bombing run, when German fighters came from four thousand feet below and another group from above. It happened so fast the Liberator crew did not see them until they were in their faces. Curly kept them in his sights and fought for all he was worth. The firestorm was over in minutes, but the plane took nearly a hundred bullet holes ranging from baseball size to rips more than a foot long. One 20-millimeter shell tore through one side of the plane passing under Curly’s arm and out the other side within inches of another gunner. It was a miracle that not one of the crew suffered a single scratch.
Twice Curly’s bravery earned him the Air Medal for Exceptionally Meritorious Service in action over enemy territory. The mixture of fear and pride young Mary must have felt at reading of the exploits of her husband. All she wanted was for him to come home safe and sound. For the three of them to be a family. For the baby on the way to be healthy and know the love of its father.
But then, in May, only five months after he had left, his letters stopped. A seed of fear settled over the family waiting in Emery. And then the telegram came. It was from the War Department. ‘Tech Sergeant Vernon Cummings has been reported missing in action over Germany since May the eighth’ it said.
Mary was terrified at the possibility that all her hopes for his safe return would be dashed. She made phone calls and wrote letters, but no one could give her the assurance she needed. The pilot and other members of the crew, she learned, were reported as prisoners of war in Germany. Surely, he was among them. Simply missing from the list.
For three long months she waited, as did their families, and all of Emery. In that time, Mary gave birth to another daughter, Sheila. She looked into the face of that tiny girl, praying for the day she could share her with Curly.
Then in August another telegram. This one from the International Red Cross. Vernon Cummings had been killed in action. At that time, his body had not been recovered.
This could not be. Mary refused to accept the terrible news. In time, she contacted the other members of the crew searching for some evidence that he was still alive. The crew members were certain he had been killed by gunfire as they parachuted out.
What heartbreaking news that must have been. Mary would have to find her way in this life without him and she did. She eventually married again, had another daughter, and raised a step-son. But she never forgot that brave young man that took her heart soaring with him over Germany.
Love, you see, never dies. It takes on different shapes and forms and is sometimes sent to a place in our hearts that may not be seen, but is always felt. Curly never came home, but he was always there. And he was waiting when Mary joined him nearly 50 years later. Her ashes lay at the foot of his empty grave in Emery and their daughter Sheila is buried a few yards away. Cancer took her at 53. Laverne lives in Idaho and Utah but returns to her Cummings and Huml relatives when she can.
In Belgium, at the American Cemetery, 5,329 white crosses mark the sacrifices of the men and women who gave their lives during WWII. There is a cross for Curly among them. He was a true American hero and Emery is his home.
The Legend of the Flying Pig
It’s an old story, tried and true,
One that will certainly pull you out of the blue.
One that deserves retellin’ I tell ya;
‘Course no one could do it like Sonny, oh yeah.
On a warm, autumn day in mid-September
The legend was born, a story to remember.
It was time for the fair to come to the county
All vying for ribbons and farmers to sell their bounty.
Young Sonny was summoned, and he didn’t dare linger.
Take the pig to the fair, his Dad shook his finger,
And don’t you be racin’ I’m giving you my Chevy
Don’t be doin’ no funny stuff for that truck is too heavy.
Then into the bed they loaded the pig,
Rosy pink and nearly 700 lbs. big;
With a perfectly curled tail and perky little ears,
And bright eyes and snout, he rose effortlessly above his peers.
The truck it was waitin’ and Sonny slid inside.
Hold on little piggy, you’re goin’ for a ride!
Surely a pig that size would stay in place;
It was only 6 miles, and Sonny’d hold his pace.
But County E lay ahead and to be a racer his fate,
He kept it tight in the corners; like a bullet on the straight.
His Dad’s old Chevy Sonny pushed hard to its limit;
No fear had he, it was pedal to the metal and give it!
Richert’s bridge loomed in the distance.
He was sure he could do it if only by the seat of his pants.
Sonny knew if he hit the rise in the road just right
He could jump that bridge without a fight.
He gunned the motor and with a mighty lurch;
If this didn’t go right, he’d be needin’ a church.
The quarterpanels flapped and the tires spun free
YeeHah, Sonny whooped with unfettered glee.
That old truck flew with the grace of a bird
On nothing but guts and glory it was spurred.
Then the tires kissed the pavement with one little bounce
And ah, sweet success, he hadn’t worried an ounce.
To let off some steam he turned up the radio
And sang ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ with Bill Monroe.
It was a good day, a great day indeed,
For he’d fulfilled his thirsty need for speed.
He pulled into Steigers to pump some gas,
Whistling as he filled the tank with a splash.
And then it hit, like a nasty slap in the face,
Something was horribly, horribly out of place.
It started with a cold sweat that beaded on his brow
And a twist of his innerds, I’ve got me some trouble now.
He replaced the hose, as his hands began to shake
Oh Lordy, his belly really started to ache.
The pig, it was gone and his Dad was going to kill him!
He tore out of the station, panic rushing every limb
And raced back to the site with a fear so big
His undoing lay on the fate of a pig.
By the side of the creek that pink lump did lay.
“A bit skun up,” Sonny would later say.
But one tough ham as he’d always recall,
That big old pig could really take a fall.
The story lay fallow for quite some time.
It was years before his Dad knew the nature of Sonny’s crime.
And why his favorite hog failed to earn that year
The top dollar it would bring in, he was so sure.
As the years rolled on, Sonny retold the story
Of the poor pig so wrongly robbed of his glory.
He’d tell it with a chuckle and a slap of the knee
While all of us around him laughed so heartily.
Now the legend lives on and the townspeople say
The pig still haunts that bridge to this day.
So I warn you truly, when you’re out on County E;
You just might see a flash of pink as you cross, wait and see.
Recently, I had one of the most wonderful experiences. I had the pleasure of accompanying my granddaughter, Anna, to see a production of Beauty and the Beast at the Grand Theater in Wausau, WI. We got all gussied up in our finest, went to dinner at Olive Garden where we had great food and made a toast to ‘us and a fabulous evening’. After, we made it to the therater with time to explore. Mostly we checked out the balcony, but it reminded me of Girl Scout meetings in our local library. We scouts would sneak up into the dark recesses of the three story building looking for ghosts, afterwards coming up with colorful stories of what we’d experienced. Anna’s classmates warned her of a ghost that resides there, so of course, we had to check it out. It was delicious fun!
Before the play began I put us in the wrong seats twice before I got my act together and found the right ones. It was good for a giggle. Then, the play began. The music was golden to the ears, the colorful sets a banquet for the eyes, and the dancing enthralling. Several times, I looked over to see Anna’s face in rapture as she watched.
At intermission, Anna threw her arms around me and said, “thanks, Grammy!” As with the Grinch, my heart gew two sizes that evening. My date with Anna is one of my finest memories. I can’t wait to do it again!!
You know, I just love Autumn. The colors, the sound of leaves rustling underfoot, the snow wafting from overhead…wait, what, SNOW? Yes, it’s snowing outside my window as I write this. So far, it’s not sticking. But that’s not what this is about – besides, I don’t want to give the white stuff any attention just yet. Anyway, to get back on track, I canned pickled beets yesterday. The scent is like none other – I know that’s a cliche, but I can’t help it. The scent of the cinnamon and cloves fills the house, and I just want to bathe myself in it. Okay, I’d look a little wierd after the beet juice turned me magenta. But I highly suggest pickling beets sometime just for the aroma. Today, I baked apple pies. Again – that scent! I’m stopping now – the apple pies are calling me. Yum!
I’ve said many times that I enjoy writing romance for the sheer joy of watching characters come to life on the page – and infusing them with nuances of the characters I see around me every day. In ‘Kissing Livvy’ I was able to take so many influences and apply them to the colorful characters of Butternut Creek. Livvy is almost purely one person who shall remain nameless. Jesse is based on two very important men in my life. They are very similar, yet each one brings something to the character. Sarah was by far the most fun to write. Her ascerbic nature was just plain fun because it’s a defense mechanism – she’s truly not that crabby as you see toward the end. And George – what can I say about good ol’ George? Meeting him, you will see where Sarah gets her gumption, and that a soft heart does lurk just below the surface, no matter how hard they try to cover it up. But Livvy and Jesse, opposite personalities for sure, but an attraction so strong that nothing can keep them apart – even the fear of laying your heart wide open for all the reward just waiting in the wings.
This last Saturday night my husband and I attended Jonesfest in Kennan, WI. The event is the brainchild of a few people in that area who performed in bands when they were younger and felt a need to do something to make sure music education remains alive and well in our rural schools.
We parked our car in a hayfield, walked across a small bridge and down a short dirt road to a cabin in the woods. Tents were set up to shield from the sun and the dew of the evening, white lights danced overhead, food was served for a donation and beverages sold. Admission was free. People scattered the surrounding area with lawn chairs and blankets or sat at tables under the tents. Beyond the seating a giant bonfired lit the night. Someone made a “tiki” torch from a hollowed log standing on end. It was the neatest thing. A fire was lit below and where the tree once had branches, holes had been drilled. The fire raced up the inside of the trunk and came out the holes and burst out the top. It looked like a tree of fire. A few lucky souls won raffles.
The best part was the local talent displayed. Five bands, one hour each. In between people shared jokes and amusing stories. All proceeds went to the schools music program. I would guess that nearly 400 people attended. I cannot commend these people enough. It’s amazing what a few can do. Thank you for such an enjoyable evening!!
I love small towns and the eccentric people that give them color – that’s why I write about them. Of course big cities have their unique citizens as well, but in a small town they become a hallmark, a cornerstone of entertainment.
Our town has a man that walks from sun-up to sun-down, the same route every day. Always in an interesting outfit (personally I love the fur boots and fringed vest), sometimes carrying a fishing pole or a guitar. When he has the guitar out, he’ll sit in our central park and wail at the top of his lungs. In his younger days, he rode an old banana bike through town. He’ll make his own commentary to no one as he walks along and once in a while he’ll stop on a corner and howl like a wolf. Always with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye to see who’s watching. There was a time when he carried a camera and took pictures of butts. No one seemed offended, in fact, it was a badge of honor. Okay, we may be a bit sick, but it was all in fun. Seems everyone in town keeps an eye on him and for the most part, enjoys his presence. People joke that he’ll probably have the biggest funeral this little burg has seen.
Carry on, Waldamore!
Just getting ready to head out to our small town summer festival, Flambeau Rama. Can’t wait to see who I see and find what I find.
I had just a small window of time, but I got in the flower beds and finished putting mulch down on a path. And then the rain came. I don’t mind so much because now I can curl up with a book. A great way to spend an afternoon before getting back into the grind. What’s your favorite way to spend a soggy Sunday?