September 1, 1939

Seventy-eight years ago today, the Second World War began. This excerpt is that fateful day for American pilot, Mont Chumbley–subject of the memoir, “River of January: Figure Eight.”

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Los Angeles

1939

On a sunny morning at the first of September, Chum arrived in the town of Winslow, Arizona, bumping down the landing strip at the airfield. Taxiing off to the side of the field, he observed a crowd collecting close to the control tower. Curious, he rolled to a stop, switched off the Waco, and hopped down. “What’s cooking?” he asked no one in particular.

A boy in greasy dungarees and black high-tops chirped up excitedly. “The Germans invaded Poland, mister. And England and France have declared war!” The boy beamed proudly, satisfied with reporting such important news.

Astonished, Chum stared blankly at the kid—countless considerations flooding his thoughts. Poor Helen. She’s been worried about what would happen. She loved France. I’ll probably be hearing from the reserves. We’re not in yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

While various scenarios dominated his thoughts, Chum refueled his plane. He then carried on with his flight plan, eventually touching down in Albuquerque—his destination. With his Waco S Series plane tethered to the ground, the pilot beelined to the small airport office, anxious for any news. The day had grown hot, but Chum barely noticed. He needed water, but the news came first. Approaching a low, dark building, he heard a voice booming from a radio:

At dawn, with no provocation or declaration of hostilities, the German army has invaded Polish territory, ruthlessly violating the country’s national integrity. Intensive bombing attacks are at this moment raining death and destruction over the cities of Poznan, Wroclaw, and Danzig resulting in considerable casualties among innocent civilians . . .

“Hey, Coop,” Chum called, hailing the manager. “What’s all this about marching Germans?”

“Been waiting on you, Chum,” the man called Coop replied, turning down the news broadcast. “Got a cable here for you from Troy. And that breaking news is all too true, pal.” Coop gestured toward the radio with his thumb.

Mumbling thanks, Chum unsealed the telegram, tuning out the now-muted announcer. He read:

Finish Albuquerque demo. Then to Troy. Big meeting. Perry

“They want you back at the nest, I’d wager,” the manager said with a knowing expression.

“Yes. Yes they do. All hands on deck, as the saying goes.” Chum tried to smile.

“Jerry’s hit Poland hard,” Coop continued. “First their heavy bombers, then the tanks, then the army marching in. Poor Poles. They don’t stand a chance. Radio announcer called the attack blitzkrieg.”

The word didn’t click. “What’s a blitzkrieg?”

Coop replied in a dark voice, “Lightning war.”

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both books are available at http://www.river-of-january.com, and at Amazon.com.

 

 

A New Musical Icetravaganza

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Seventeen Days and counting until the release of “River of January: Figure Eight.” Books will be available at http://www.river-of-january.com.

The Ice Vanities

 

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1939

Arms twined around skaters on each side, Helen balanced nervously in the shadows. In V-shape formation, costumed in tall Hussar caps, and military jackets resplendent with gold brocade, the line stood expectantly in the dark. She shivered from a combination of excitement and the frigid draft wafting from the ice. Her ears thudded, inundated by the echoing din from the impatient audience. Much louder than a theater, she absently noted.

Positioned at the apex of the two wings stood Czech Olympian, Vera Hruba—one of three women headliners in the new production. When the last measures of an orchestral stringed overture faded to a close, the house lights darkened, and the arena fell silent for an expectant moment. With a commanding flourish, the opening bars of a military march surged to all corners of the house. Spotlights swept over the glittering skate-line, as Helen pushed off her left foot, in sync with the tempo. Following two more beats, Hruba burst from the crux of the V, and raced the circumference of the rink, spotlights holding tight to her revolutions. The audience roared in appreciation with waves of echoing applause. Helen’s first ice show had begun.

If rehearsals were any gauge, she already felt great confidence in the show’s success. The dance line often lingered along the rail, chatting, stretching—waiting for the director to call them onto the ice. “That’s ViVi-Anne Hulton, she’s Swedish,” Clara Wilkins leaned in whispering, both studying the soloist on the ice. “She’s been skating since she was ten,” Clara nodded, as Hulton executed a perfectly timed waltz jump. “Boy, that little Swedish meatball knows her footwork.” The girls standing nearby murmured in awed agreement.

Chestnut-haired Lois Dworshak sprinted past the attentive chorus line. Helen automatically glanced again at her well-informed friend and Clara didn’t disappoint. “She, Lois there, is a bit of a prodigy. She skated a little as a kid in Minnesota but, actually hasn’t skated professionally all that long. She’s good too, huh?”

“Jeepers, you can say that again,” Helen muttered.

“But, the real story in this cast is Vera Hruba.” This time, May Judels, head line-skater, spoke up from the other side of Eileen. Listening eyes shifted toward May. “Vera met Hitler, just like Sonja Henie did, at the Olympics in Berlin. She finished her freestyle routine, and came in pretty high, I think. Vera didn’t medal or anything, but still skated a pretty good program.

“So what happened?” asked another girl, Margo.

“Hitler says to her, ‘How would you like to skate for the swastika?’ And Vera, (she doesn’t much like Germans), told him she’d rather skate on a swastika!” Heads turned in unison, watching as Hruba completed a flying camel. “So,” May sighed, “to make a long story longer, Vera and her mother left Prague in ’37 as refugees, the Hun’s marched in, and Hitler made a public statement that Vera shouldn’t wear Czech costumes or skate to Czech folk songs. He said Czechoslovakia was gone, never rise again. Vera then responded, publicly rejecting the Fuehrer’s comments, saying she’d always be a Czech, and that Hitler could, in so many words, go fly a kite.”

“Their own little war . . . now that’s guts,” Helen’s eyes returned to center ice. “Makes Henie even more of an apple polisher.”

“A swastika polisher,” Margo corrected, as the director motioned the giggling chorus to center ice.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, also available on Kindle. The second volume, The Figure Eight is due out in September 2016