Smoky The War Dog

In 2003 in Memorial Field on Valley Parkway, the Cleveland Metroparks dedicated a statue to the smallest war hero and the dogs of all wars. She stood only 7 inches tall and weighed only 4 pounds yet this little soldier won 8 battle stars on 12 combat missions. Smoky the Yorkshire Terrier was probably the cutest service member in WWII.

In February of 1944 in the New Guinea jungle, American soldier Ed Downy found Smoky in an abandoned foxhole. Thinking she may have been a pet of a Japanese soldier he took her to a nearby POW camp. But Smoky did not understand commands in Japanese or English.  Mr. Downy gave Smoky to Motor pool Sargent Dare who then sold Smoky to Corporal William A Wynne for 2 Australian pounds.  He sold her so he could return to his poker game.

In the next 18 months, Smoky lived in tents and shared C-Rations with Corporal Wynne.  They backpacked in the New Guinea jungles and went on combat flights. She spent hours dangling from a pack and even jumped from a 30 foot tower with a specially made parachute. Smokey served in the South Pacific with 5th. Air Force, 26the Photo Recon Squadron and flew 12 air/sea and photoreconnaissance missions. Smoky was credited with 12 combat missions and awarded 8 battle stars.  Corporal Wynne credited Smokey to saving his life while they were on a transport ship. As the ship deck was booming and vibrating from anti aircraft gunnery, Smoky guided Wynne to duck the fire that hit 8 men standing next to them

In January of 1945 Smoky’s status was elevated to War Dog and Heroine when she rose to the challenge to serve her country in a most unusual way. Corporal Wynne’s group was helping revamp a former Japanese airfield for use by American planes.  They needed to string communication wire under the airstrip which was a major challenge.  This three day job would have required digging up the airstrip and putting it out of action for that time leaving it vulnerable to Japanese bombing. Smoky solved the problem by helping guide the wire. They tied a string to her collar and Corporal Wynne coaxed her through the eight inch pipe under the runway.  She climbed through piles of sand accumulated in the 70 feet of pipe to bring the string out on the other side. Smoky’s special mission in the combat area of the Lingayen Gulf on Luzon resulted in teletype and phone lines being activated for the U.S. and Allied forces.

Not long after Wynne adopted Smoky, he caught dengue fever and was sent to the 233rd Station Hospital. After a couple of days, Wynne’s friends brought Smoky to see him. The nurses were charmed by the tiny dog and her story, they asked if they could bring her around to visit with other patients who had been wounded in the Biak Island invasion. For five days while he was in the hospital, Smoky slept with Wynne on his bed at night.  In the morning the nurses would collect her to take her along on patient rounds to help cheer up the patients.  At the end of the day they would return her to Wynne to spend the night with him again.

Smoky had a powerful effect on the soldiers in the hospital. She lightened the mood with her presence and her personality and Wynne noticed it.  They laughed as she chased the butterflies, and of course, they loved the tricks Wynne had taught her mostly to relieve the tedium.

The duo’s repertoire started modestly enough with basic commands, and Wynne soon had his diminutive charge playing dead. When Wynne would point one finger at her and yell “bang!” not only would Smoky fall over to the ground at the command, but she also would lie there listless while Wynne came over to poke and prod her and even as he lifted her from the ground.

Wynne eventually trained her to ride a homemade scooter, walk a tightrope and even spell her own name.  He had large cutout letters set out, and as he called them out to her Smokey would pick them up in order.

Word of their act spread, and while Wynne and Smoky were on convalescence furlough in Australia, they were invited to perform at a few hospitals. As he watched the men in wheelchairs holding Smoky in their arms, he could see the difference that the tiny dog was making. “There’s a complete change when we came into the room,” he says. “They all smiled; they all loved her.”

Smoky was hardly the only dog aiding in the recovery of wounded veterans in the aftermath of the Second World War. At an Air Force convalescent home in Pawling, New York, the medical staff witnessed the remarkable effect one dog had on a reluctant patient, completely changing his mental outlook. After that, they brought more dogs into the hospital and eventually built a kennel on the grounds to house them all.

The trend caught on, and in much the same way patriotic owners volunteered their dogs to serve with American forces fighting overseas, they brought their pets to serve as hospital dogs to provide uplift for injured soldiers as they recovered from their wounds. By 1947 civilians had donated about 700 dogs. In many ways, these dogs were the first therapy dogs, whose curative abilities were not only recognized but also harnessed to great effect.  Therapy dogs are still used today, visiting hospitals and nursing homes to help cheer up the patients.

After the war was over, Wynne and Smoky continued to tour hospitals, bringing their act to recuperating soldiers back home. In 1955 at the age of 12, Smoky retired.  Two years later at the age of 14 she died peacefully in her sleep in 1957.

As Bill Wynne remembers her, “She was just an instrument of love.”

Hannah and Michael – A love story

Hannah and Michael

One cold morning Arnold Fine, editor of The Jewish Press was walking home in Brooklyn. Looking down at the street he spotted a wallet that someone had lost. Being an honest man he opened the wallet and looked inside for identification so he could contact the owner. But all he could find were three lonely dollar bills and a crumpled envelope that contained a letter. The letter was worn and looked like it had been in the wallet for years; the legible thing on it was the return address.

Fine opened the letter hoping to find a clue to the owner, but his hopes sank when he saw that it had been written sixty years earlier in 1924. It was a “Dear John” letter, written in beautiful feminine handwriting. The writer named Hannah was writing to Michael to tell him that she would no longer be able to see him because her mother forbade it. Even though they were apart, she would always love him.

Unfortunately Michael had no last name and neither did Hannah so Fine was not able to find the owner that way. But Fine did not give up; he called the operator and inquired if she could help him. The operator was not able to give him a number, but transferred him to her supervisor. The supervisor called the phone number at the address on the envelope and asked if they would talk to Fine.

Fine asked the woman on the other end of the line if she knew anyone by the name of Hannah. She replied that they bought the house from a family who had a daughter named Hannah. But that was 30 years ago. She also told Fine that Hannah had to place her mother in a nursing home and they might have a contact number for her, even though her mother had passed away a few years before.

Fine thanked her and called the nursing home, the woman who answered explained that Hannah herself was now living in a nursing home. He then called the nursing home in which Hannah was supposed to be living. The man who answered told him that Hannah was staying there.

All though the hour was late, it was 10 p.m., Fine asked if he could stop by and see Hannah. The man answered that she might still be watching television in the day room if he wanted to chance it. Fine drove over to the nursing home and went to the day room where the nurse introduced him to Hannah.

Silver haired with a sweet disposition, she had a warm smile and twinkle in her eye. Fine showed her the wallet and told her about finding the letter inside of it. The second she saw the powder blue envelope with that little flower on the left, she took a deep breath and said, “Young man, this letter was the last contact I ever had with Michael.”

Softly she said,, “I loved him very much. But I was only 16 at the time and my mother felt I was too young. Oh, he was so handsome. He looked like Sean Connery, the actor.”

“Yes, Michael Goldstein was a wonderful person. If you should find him, tell him I think of him often. And,” she hesitated for a moment, almost biting her lip, “tell him I still love him. You know,” she said smiling as tears began to well up in her eyes, “I never did marry. I guess no one ever matched up to Michael…”

Fine thanked Hannah and took the elevator to the first floor. Now he had a last name for Michael and he was just a little bit closer to finding him. On the first floor the guard inquired if Hannah had been able to help him and Fine told him she had. He informed the guard that he now had name to go with the wallet he was trying to find the owner for. He then took out the wallet to show it to the guard.

When the guard saw it, he said, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s Mr. Goldstein’s wallet. I’d know it anywhere with that bright red lacing. He’s always losing that wallet. I must have found it in the halls at least three times. He’s one of the old timers on the 8th floor. He must have lost it on one of his walks.”

Fine thanked the guard and returned to the nurse’s desk where he told her this new information. They took the elevator to the 8th where they talked to the nurse up there.
The nurse told them that he might still be in the day room as he liked to read at night.

They entered the day room and saw an old man sitting there quietly reading a book. The nurse went over to him and asked him if he had lost his wallet. Mr. Goldstein checked his pocket, looked surprised and said yes he had. The nurse told him that Fine had found his wallet and was there to return it to him.

Mr. Goldstein smiled when he saw his wallet and offered Fine a reward for returning it. But Fine declined the reward and told Mr. Goldstein that he seen the letter in the wallet and read it hoping to find the owner.

The smile on his face suddenly disappeared. “You read that letter?”

“Not only did I read it, I think I know where Hannah is.”

He suddenly grew pale. “Hannah? You know where she is? How is she? Is she still as pretty as she was? Please, please tell me,” he begged.

“She’s fine…just as pretty as when you knew her.”

The old man smiled with anticipation and asked, “Could you tell me where she is? I want to call her tomorrow.” He grabbed my hand and said, “You know something, mister, I was so in love with that girl that when that letter came, my life literally ended. I never married. I guess I’ve always loved her.”

“Mr. Goldstein,” Fine said, “Come with me.”

They took the elevator down to the 3rd floor where they went to the day room. Hannah was still sitting there watching television. The nurse walked over to Hannah and gently tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hannah,” she said softly, pointing to Michael, who was waiting with me in the doorway. “Do you know this man?”

She adjusted her glasses, looked for a moment, but didn’t say a word.

Michael said softly, almost in a whisper, “Hannah, it’s Michael. Do you remember me?”

She gasped, “Michael! I don’t believe it! Michael! It’s you! My Michael!”

He walked slowly towards her and they embraced. The nurse and Fine left them together with tears streaming down their faces.
Three weeks later, Fine got a call at work from the nursing home. They wanted to know if he could come out that Sunday and attend a wedding, Hannah and Michael were getting married.

Michael wore a dark blue suit and stood tall and Hannah wore a light beige dress and looked beautiful. The residents of the nursing home wore their best and all turned out for the joyous affair. Fine was best man and the nursing home even gave them their own room. A 76 year old bride and 79 year old groom but they were as giddy as a couple of teenagers.

A love worth waiting for, they spent 60 years apart but had found their perfect love.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Helen Kurtz ran a small family owned pizzeria, but pizza was not her specialty. Helen was known for her famous spaghetti and meatballs; everybody loved her spaghetti and meatballs. Wife, mother, business owner and exceptional spaghetti cook, who could ask for anything more?

But one day Helen received some bad news. She had gone to the doctor and the tests came back with the dreaded “C” word, Cancer. It didn’t look good. But Helen was a fighter, she fought that cancer and she won. Yes, that cancer went into remission. Life was good.

But it did not last, for eventually the cancer returned. This time it was terminal, she had 2 months to live. But Helen did not despair for she was a fighter.

Helen called all her friends, and then she started cooking. She made a huge pot of spaghetti and gathered all her friends together at her house. There she served them all spaghetti and meatballs. She then passed out the recipe and broke the news about her cancer.

You see rather than have everyone mourn her after she had passed; Helen brought them all together to celebrate life. It was her special way to say “Goodbye” to everyone.

Helen passed away shortly afterwards, but she left us with a legacy. A legacy written on recipe cards, a legacy written with love. So the next time you sit down for a plate of spaghetti and meatballs remember Helen Kurtz.

She taught us the lesson that we need to love those who are with us now while they are here, not after they are gone. She taught us to celebrate life, all with a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.