“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

The Joanna’s Big Adventure, First Leg: Munich and Castles

We did it! The Delta fight notwithstanding (see previous post).

 

My 7-year-old granddaughter, Joanna Leigh, and I traveled to Munich, Innsbruck, and Ridnauntal (German)-the Ridanna Valley (Italian) in northeastern Italy in August. Many friends are admitting astonishment that I planned, went, and pulled off such a trip.

2014-08-01 12.52.25

 

First, no one is more surprised than I am.

 

Second, how did we do it without ending up as wandering vagabonds somewhere in Europe? Help! And I am glad to admit it. And to admit I had drunken butterflies and hard rocks in my stomach for three months before we flew.

 

And guess who did best of all: Those who know her know who did – yep, Joanna Leigh. Three statements indicate why: When we got to Munich and wandered away from the hotel, I got turned around coming back from the restaurant. She announced that from then on, she would take pictures along the way so I wouldn’t get us lost. She’s been reading too much Hansel and Gretel. The second was an order: “Jo, the next time I tell you to turn right, you’d better do it.” The third is what she announced after exploring the Sonklarhof in Ridanna: “Jo, I’m going to find a waiter and ask for a coke. If you need me, I’ll be back.” Mind you, my sister, Joanna Leigh and I were the only English speakers among everyone we dealt with, except for Roland’s passable English.

 

On Friday, August 1, 2014, Joanna Leigh, all the suitcases – including the “Monster” piece in a set of three or four bags -- our documents, Euros, and I started out for Atlanta to board Delta’s repulsive 10-hour, non-stop flight to Munich. We would arrive the next morning (because of the time difference) about 8 a.m., tired, lagged, and fuzzy-brained.

 

The best help came from my travel agent, Teri, at Witte Travel and Tours in Grand Rapids, MI, which managed a tour I took some years ago. I turned over our trip details to her when I finally admitted that figuring out the ins-and-outs of this complicated adventure was too much for me. Before it was over, I would be plopped down in a puddle of tears. The payoff came right away. When we landed in Munich, feeling exhausted and goofy, and had gone through customs, we headed for the baggage area; lo, there stood a young man dressed in a white shirt under black pants and coat, very neat and professional, holding up a sign that read “HUTT.” I could have cried with joy. He got our luggage and we got in a black VW Jetta. Now the adventure could begin.

 

As he pulled away and headed for the autobahn going, well I’m not sure, but fast, I looked back at the glass encased, dazzling Munich airport and wondered how in hell I would figure it out when we returned in a rented car for the flight home.

 

I peered out the Jetta window wondering if I would remember anything about Munich from my childhood, or if some scene would spark a flood of memories from the three years I lived there when I was Joanna Leigh’s age. No spark; just tired eyes.

 

The driver stopped right at the door of the King’s Center Hotel on Marsstrasse, which my agent, had chosen. I had told her not to book a four-star hotel because I wanted to spend that money some other way. The King’s Center turned out to be a great pick – four stars of service in a three-star disguise. Neatly tucked away in the middle of a block and two blocks from the Grey Line Tours stop and the Bahnhof, train station, it was cozy and small, with a small staff and a breakfast dining room across a private, quiet courtyard. The staff got to know us; they presented Joanna Leigh with a King’s Center stuffed bear when we left. The rooms and bathrooms were small, but enough for us. And it’s within walking distance to the city’s center.

 

MUNICH

I opted to spend three days of our limited vacation time in Munich because I had never been back since my father’s assignment, as part of the Allied Occupational Forces in Germany, soon after the end of World War II. I wanted to feel its character, touch its face, and see if I could recognize anything. I didn’t remember anything in particular, but emotions stirred when I saw the Frauenkirche, the Angel of Peace, the Isar River.

 

My memories of our stay from 1948-51 are ones of a “normal” life, even though I remember bombed out buildings and rubble. It wasn’t really normal, but military brats have to get used to new places quickly.

 

Germany was pure devastation in all directions when I lived there. (See below. Notice the building and parade-goer perched in the window.)Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

 

Munich is more than 850 years old; it was almost totally destroyed in World War II and was rebuilt. Today, Munich’s face is clean and modern, with the old and the new put together; it was re-built in a rational order. Everything radiates from the pedestrian-only Marienplatz, the geographical center since the city’s founding, symbolized by the Mariensaule. Munich’s character is vibrant and lively. Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

 

Except for one glaring flaw: Munich has a Michael Jackson Memorial. That I am able to find, Munich doesn’t have any worthy building or ruin or statue or memorial that demonstrates some responsibility for the horrors of Hitler’s reign or World War II in general. That the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, is near Munich and Bavarian children are mandated to go does NOT erase this extreme flaw. This failure, whether conscious or unconscious, stands in stark contrast to Berlin and its hollowed out Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ged√§chtniskirche, which houses a plaque reading “The tower of the old church serves as a reminder of the judgment that God passed upon our people during the years of the war.”

 

Time magazine is reporting in the on-line edition that Germany is seeing a significant rise in anti-Semitic actions, which Chancellor Angela Merkel is vowing to do all it can to stop.

S6300802Marienplatz then (above) and now (left).

Munich pictures: https://plus.google.com/photos/+JoannaCraveyHutt/albums/6053080489927328145

Post WWII photos taken by my father in 1948 to 1951, including the first Fasching Parade allowed after the War: https://plus.google.com/photos/+JoannaCraveyHutt/albums/6034161984099124353

I have tried to ID the locations of the shots.

 

Lively, varied Marienplatz, Munich

 

Bavaria has a distinctive character; it is extraverted, familiar, and fun. It has a distinctive look; traditional Bavarian dress is treated not as a costume, but as everyday clothes for many; everywhere in the summer, buildings, homes, places have window boxes or planters with waterfalls of geraniums, impatiens, and all sorts of summer blooms. It has a distinctive sound, like the gulping down of great beer, the Oktoberfest that engulfs the town and area, the beer hall music. The Alps loom, like only one remaining wall of a fortress.

 

We got our first taste of the Alps when we made the trip to two of “Mad” Ludwig II’s castles: Linderhof via Oberammergau, and Walt Disney’s favorite, Neuschwanstein, on which he modelled castles for the Princesses, especially Sleeping Beauty. Our tour guide told us a couple of interesting facts: First, Ludwig II was not likely “mad” in the sense of “insane”; he was angry that Bavaria would not anoint him Divine Ruler, so he just built these Rococo castles as his fantasy world and stayed there. Sounds like to me that Ludwig carried both meanings around. Second, if you mispronounce the very mispronounce-able “Neuschwantstein,” you might be talking about some pig trail.

The Castles: https://plus.google.com/photos/+JoannaCraveyHutt/albums/6057480604944440129

3SchlossNsw-6

 

 

Joanna Leigh and I really enjoyed Munich, but after three days, I was ready to get on with the main reason for the trip: To meet Roland and Anton, and to discover what we could about dad’s bailout into the Stubai Alps and the crash site of his P-51. That’s next.

 

 

The Mysterious Case of the Knee Defender

Ok, I’m biting.
Now Consumer Reports has weighed in on its Web site with a Knee Defender piece, and this is after many media reports on an incident at 35,000 feet. Attention includes the New York Times, that stiff and credible publication; unlike other reports, the NYT and CR pieces have something substantial to say. Well, I do too.
 
At first, responsibility for this incident and others like it was dumped on passengers. When I saw that angle being reported, I ended up screaming to the television “It’s no mystery who’s at fault here, dummy. It’s not the passengers; it is the airlines.” It’s my guess that I wasn’t alone. I’ll bet many, many passengers were thinking, if not screaming, the same thing. Isn’t it just like so many big businesses and corporations shouting, “Oh, no. It’s not us. It’s Halliburton,” or “Oh, no, we’re not the same company now. Those faulty cars were back then, not now.” “Oh, not on our airline; we have Economy Plus.”
 
It may have been the Associated Press who first put it out there. The Guardian picked it up with these headlines: “Plane diverted as passengers fight over seat reclining”. Then the story of the incident went viral. Whose curiosity could resist? One tall passenger put the knee defender on the tray he ate on to prevent the passenger in the seat in front of him from reclining. That passenger was so infuriated, she threw her cold water on him. Fight on. Then the United plane made an unscheduled stop to dump them both off the plane. Then it went on its merry way. I wonder what descending and taking off costs in fuel and whatever else.
 
Frankly, I don’t know why the rest of the passengers didn’t rise up in a revolt.
 
I’m biting because my passengership makes me an expert on this subject. On August 1 my granddaughter and I boarded Delta’s flight 130, a non-stop ten-hour trip to Munich. We would arrive the next morning (because of the time difference) about 8 a.m., tired, lagged, and fuzzy-brained from no sleep. On the 11th, we had to repeat the trip backwards on Delta’s flight 131 to Atlanta. Then I drove us home, with no sleep.
 
It wasn’t so much that it was grueling. It’s the fact that it was NASTY. Plain nasty.
 
Which Customers First?
Fourth (I’m going in reverse order), I paid extra for Delta’s version of Economy Plus, seats located behind first class, an area where the airplane hasn’t yet started getting narrow – more room, more comfy, more perks. Are you kidding, Delta? When we got on and found our seats I looked back at “regular” economy and I knew: I had wasted that money. Perks? Have you lost your mind, Delta? We weren’t offered anything, not even water, while I watched some fawning steward offering all the, what, maybe 10, First Class passengers champagne and what could have been chocolate truffles.
 
Don’t waste your money.
 
Third, coming back I asked one of the stewardettes in charge of snapping the blue netting together on the boundary of First Class and Economy Plus if my granddaughter, age 7, could use the bathroom between our Economy Plus and First Class. The hag said, No, I’m sorry.”
 
Then Joanna Leigh spilled about half of her orange juice the stewardettes brought with the one-inch square, tiny bag of pretzels. Juice was dripping off the tray. I was frantically looking for something to sop it up with. I even grabbed napkins off other passengers’ trays. I realize now a fight could have ensued. The stewardette in charge of rolling that blasted cart down the almost too narrow aisle came by. I said, “Please, I need some paper towels or napkins.”
 
The hag handed me two, count ‘em two, cocktail napkins. I was flabbergasted.
 
Then came dinner, the “food,” and that’s a real knee-slapper. I wondered if the airlines pay an employee to stop at Walmart or Target to pick up the Fisher Price “food” they serve the passengers. I remember giving some like it to Joanna Leigh when she got her kitchen set for Christmas.
Second, and this one really should be First, the bathrooms. For a 10-hour flight with 250-plus passengers, you essentially have four little cubbies when you subtract the two for all those ten First Class passengers. If they catch the hoi polloi using those, they might disembark them along with any fighters. Those bathrooms were worse than any port-o-potty at the State Fair. Don’t bring your own spray bottle of Clorox or the hidden Air Marshalls would rise up and deplane you.
 
The bathrooms on a long flight are a health hazard. Plain and simple.
First Class Dumps
 
Finally, number ONE, the seats, which is where the primary fault lies. Or sits.
 
Imagine a profile of a seat in the famed “upright and locked” position – with no lumbar support – up to the pillowed “head rest.” Now imagine the poor passenger sitting in it, arched forward all the way up to the “head rest,” which tilts your head down toward your chest, which means that you are sitting in a crescent-moon arched position. That’s against the laws of physics, except for the Dream Works logo of a kid sitting on a moon sliver with his fishing pole hanging into the stars. You need lumbar support and a pillowed area to support not your head, but your neck. Then your head can rest slightly back. Passengers would sleep instead of fight. Like this:
 
I

 
I use this chair at my desk in my study. Look, lumbar support, padded neck support that lets you tilt your head back a bit, and a tilt function for the chair. I think Sealy makes it, and I got it at Sam’s Club. So, duh, what would it take to convert it to an airline chair? As far as I’m concerned, this chair redesign and attention to the bathrooms are high priority. Mystery solved.
 
I almost forgot -- the baggage. The airlines have you cornered here. Luggage sets come with a monster bag, a “carry-on,” a tote, and sometimes one other. To keep the Monster bag under 50 pounds, you’d have to pack nothing but cotton balls. So you pay. And if your “carry on” is too big to fit in a measuring bag the airlines use, then you have to leave boarding and re-go to the checked bags line. And miss your flight, so that the airlines can assign your seats to someone else who will pay, thereby double-dipping. So you pay.
 
Delta should be ashamed of breaking the first rule of business: Successful companies put customer satisfaction first. There’s competition out there, Delta; American companies turn on customer service. I’ll end this rant with Consumer Reports angle: “The airlines are largely to blame precisely because they’re shoehorning more people into tighter and tighter spaces, says a travel industry expert and Consumer Reports consultant, William McGee.”
 
And, “most U.S. airlines have decided to reduce ‘seat pitch’—the distance between rows—in economy/coach sections. In many cases, the existing knee room is inadequate for some passengers, McGhee says, even with seats fully upright. ‘The last I checked, the seat pitch on Spirit Airlines was 28 inches, which is simply cruel’, he said.”
Joanna Leigh and I had a memorable and astonishing trip, Delta notwithseating. Next time I’ll look at Lufthansa or maybe Singapore airlines. It flies east via Europe to go to the Far East.
 
More on our wonderful trip in future posts.















































Flying Eastward into the Past: Ridanna, Italy

1-crash site glacier
 
 
 
In a recent phone conversation, a friend pinned me down. “Now, why are you making this trip, what will be your takeaway? Since Joanna Leigh is only seven, what do you want or expect her to get from it?” she asked.”
A few years after my father died in 1995 and I had brought home a lot of his possessions to store, I decided to take on the project of looking deeper into his World War II event. I wasn’t sure why.
 
I started by pulling out the three 55- or 60- year-old scrapbooks (now they are more like 70 years old) my mother had put together beginning with dad’s enlistment after Pearl Harbor, getting his wings, his Missing in Action status, his return, and our lives living in Munich from 1948-51 where dad was assigned as part of the Allied Occupational Forces. I was in the first, second, and third grades there.
 
I slipped the second one out of the plastic wrapping; it covered his War experience as a P-51 Mustang pilot flying out of Italy into Bavaria ( see below). I opened it and realized the pages were terribly fragile, crumbling into sand as I turned them. There were letters, telegrams, notices of his MIA status, pieces of his parachute, Nazi money, all kinds of things, but one news article cut from an unidentified paper caught my eye. It was dated February 22, 1945, the day dad had to bail out of his damaged P-51 over the Alps.
Scrapbook Cravey Parachute
 
Here’s what the article said:
“9,000 Planes Pound Nazi Rail Lines Greatest Air Fleet of War Deals Kayo Blow ---- Results Good: Aerial Offensive Against Reich in Final Phase LONDON, Feb. 22 – (UP)
The greatest air fleet of the war – an estimated 9,000 bombers and fighters – dealt a knockout blow today to the entire rail transportation system of western Germany, blasting every primary and secondary rail line in that section of the Reich and paralyzing enemy communications.”
It went on to say that with the 2,000 additional air planes of the Red Army, the total would be more like 11,000 Allied planes in action over Germany that day.
“Every type of plane at the disposal of the Allied air chiefs was thrown into combat,” it went on. And it was the “best flying weather since Summer [1944].”
After that 1944 summer came the infamous winter of the Battle of the Bulge, weather that continued over Europe until spring 1945, including that fateful day dad took off in his P-51.
“Italy-based heavy bombers dropped the largest tonnage of bombs ever carried in one operation by the 15th Air Force planes. Fighters and bombers together flew more than 1,000 sorties to attack communications along the Brenner Pass, in northeast Italy and northern Yugoslavia,” it continued. Then quoting returning airmen, it said, “. . . ‘and Berlin is completely cut off from northwestern, eastern and southwestern Germany’.”
The War would come to an end sooner than expected, and part of the reason must have been this day. I wanted to know more of what the day meant. Dad was taken into custody by the Nazis after his descent from “Sugar Mountain,” according to his sketchy retelling, into a small Italian village in the mountain’s valley. According to dad, four men “nursed him back to health.”
 
Suddenly I realized that the date he went down was a week after the horrendous and infamous Allied bombing of Dresden and Leipzig.
 
Something about the date and the following week – it had meaning, but what?
 
Life Changes
Then circumstances grabbed my life, including the birth of my granddaughter we are raising, and I dropped the project. Until September 2012, that is.
 
The telltale “ping” alerted me to an e-mail coming into my virtual mailbox on Sept. 1, 2012. It was in the preview pane, and it came from someone with a strange name. Maybe Domanig Roland or Roland Domanig. Naturally I thought it was spam or a hoax. I lifted my finger to delete it. Something stopped me; I just closed the preview screen of it and went on to something else. Yet something must have been tickling my brain; I let it sit there for a week as I dealt with stuff all around it.
 
Days later I looked at it in the preview pane; yes, the “something” was the subject line and the stranger’s e-mail address. When I first looked at it, I had skimmed the subject line and I saw “Lt. Col. John T. Cravey,” but it wasn’t those words. Instead, it was “Lt. John Cravey.” Dad was a lieutenant 70 years ago. Then I saw “Tirol” in the sender’s address. I finally spotted another clue -- “USAAF,” the War acronym for what became the USAF (United States Air Force) after World War II. Dad had gone down in the Tyrolean Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. So, I took the risk; I opened it.
 
It read, in sort of halting English, “Madame, if you get this, please send note. I am researching WWII fates.”
 
Hmmm. A language problem. And his name was Roland Domanig. I bit. I answered, asking for some proof of ID, a bit insulting, I think. Thankfully he sent another e-mail. In that one he said, “We have visited your father’s crashite.”
 
With the e-mail came a weird picture of some barren-looking mountain landscape, a turquoise blue glacier lake, and a black dot in the middle of the photo (shown at the top). It hit me. He meant “crash site.”
 
Not only have we never known where dad’s P-51 crashed, truthfully, I’m not sure it ever mattered much. He came home. As kids, my brother and sister and I knew about dad’s World War II adventure, but to us that’s what it was, an adventure. He never told us anything different. The story we knew was like reading a good comic book and we liked to tell it to other kids: “My dad’s a Super Hero and flies cool planes. He bombed the bad guys and shot stuff up until they fired flak into the air from a cannon or something and it hit his plane. He had to bail out onto a mountain and get down it. Some men helped him, but the bad Nazis captured him and he went to a prisoner of war camp. Then the Americans won and he left the prison; he was a hero. He got on a boat to get home.”
 
Dad didn’t know the location either, as far as we knew. Dad’s flight leader, Capt. Roger Zierenberg (who later received the Silver Star and was eventually promoted to full Colonel), said in a letter to mom dated May 1, 1945, that the plane went down “about 25 miles southeast of Innsbruck, Austria.” That’s all. He did say that dad was the best wingman he ever flew with. That letter did not reach mom until dad had already returned in June, so she had no answers about his fate until she got a telegram from him on about June 1, 1945, saying he was on his way to Atlanta. She was battling a badly abscessed tooth, but she took off as fast as she could, swollen face and all.
 
Roland Domanig said there were more photos.
 
In the flood of e-mails that followed, he sent photos of the long debris field with pieces mixed in with gravel, ice, and dirt. I would learn much later why there were no large pieces or the engine or propeller. Among the small pieces was the P-51’s production plate. It’s about the size of a good hardback novel lying on its side. If you find the production plate, you can track down the plane and its airman. There’s no figuring out the odds against ever finding the crash site, let alone the production plate when so much of the crash had been hauled off. I believe that warming in the Alps uncovered pieces lying deep in the glacier ice and snow in 1945.
 
Then he told me about Anton, his friend and fellow crash site “archaeologist” who lives in the Ridanna Valley (called Ridnauntal in German) and who led Roland to the crash site. I would learn later of the incredible role his father and older brother played in dad’s story.
 
So, Joanna Leigh and I will board a plane August 1 for a direct flight to Munich. We will stay several days. Then we’ll take the train from the Munich train station, which is said to be gorgeous, to Innsbruck, where I will finally meet Roland Domanig in person; I will rent a car, and Roland will lead us over the Brenner Pass into Italy to the Ridanna Valley, where we will meet Anton Volgger, put our eyes on Zuckerhutl, the mountain, and stay in the hotel (greatly transformed) where mom and dad stayed (when we were stationed in Munich) when they went back to the valley to revisit the site of dad’s unimaginable survival.
 
What will my takeaway be? I don’t know, but the thought gives me butterflies. I’m feeling low-level anxiety. I know that Roland and Anton have given us a rare gift: Truth. He has offered us a real story of the real person, not an Action Hero, his moment in real history, his odds-crushing survival, and the reality of the awful nature of War. It was not the John Wayne and Hogan’s Heroes version that we were fed for decades.
 
Here’s what I believe Joanna Leigh will get from it: I was her age when we were stationed in Munich. My memories are spotty, childish, and now dim. I remember the Fasching Parade against a backdrop of bombed out buildings and piles of rubble. I remember several iconic pieces of the undamaged city scape: the Frauenkirche, the Glockenspiel, and what I’ve always called the Angel of Peace. I remember the cold water of the Isar River.
 
Her memories may be as fuzzy. But one takeaway will serve her, and my other granddaughter, in a remarkable way: They will be alive to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War II and will hold hands with that past to make the celebration come alive for them. Their great-grandfather, Grand John, was there and played his heroic part to end that gruesome war.
 
Special Note: We will stay in the Sonklarhof located in the valley (http://www.sonklarhof.it/en/). It has a long history and is a modern winter ski resort and a summer wellness spa. Germans, Italians, and other Europeans often vacation there.
On the history page, the second photo in the slideshow is a shot of the old dining room. Here is the photo dad shot in 1950:
Ridnaun_0015
 
Notice the large oil, shot perhaps because it is of the Mountain. I will find out; I will also keep my fingers crossed that the hotel still has it somewhere.
 
 
When dad and mom returned to the Valley in 1950, they drove in our Woodie, which the military has shipped to Munich, as Germany had very few goods of any kind. Anton was a boy, maybe about ten, and has a distinct memory of the legendary airman returning in a mythic car. Here it is:
 
Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH


































































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