Monday, March 20, 2017

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, VERA LYNN



Having grown up in the long, dark shadow of WWII, I heard many stories of the war from those who lived through it. How deeply they influenced me was never so clearly brought home to me as on 9/11. But let me give a bit a background so you can understand.

When I was a model, I had a very good friend who was a studio manager working for some of the best photographers in the business. He was English and had been born in India, but raised in London. His father had been a soldier stationed in India, but he had been too young to remember it.

His family had moved back to England and he was still a child when WWII broke out. The stories he told of his boyhood days in the war were unforgettable. Due to fatigue, lack of food and warmth endured much of the British population, as well as trying to be a mother to five small children with her husband fighting overseas, his mother had come down with pneumonia, at that time, as now, an often fatal disease. With his mother in the hospital, there was no one to take care of the children, so they were sent to an orphanage, until she would get better or... He'd been about four years old when this calamity occurred.

She did get better and the family was reunited, but that was hardly the end of their struggle. The privations that the Brits endured after the war were nothing short of unbelievably awful: lack of food, clothing, heat, and even entertainment. It was the cheerful American musicals that kept my friend's spirits up, and he vowed someday to come to the USA, home of Jane Powell.

He also introduced me to Vera Lynn. He had an album of hers with all the wartime hits that he remembered so well, "Lili Marlene", " The White Cliffs of Dover", and "There'll Always Be an England". Because I loved those hauntingly poignant and deeply romantic songs so much, he gave me her album as a gift. I played it endlessly and knew all the songs by heart, and could sing them in my off key and toneless way. I still have that album, but it's vinyl.

Dissolve, dissolve to 2001, September 11. I am at my job as the news trickles over the radio that the World Trade Center has been hit by a small plane. Back to work. Another plane. Not a small plane. The towers fall. No one knew what was coming next. How bad is this going to get? Is it safe to let people go home? I don't care, I'm going home.

I drive south on the Palisades Interstate Parkway where clearly visible for the entire drive are huge, ominous white clouds of debris blanketing the Manhattan skyline and rising up into the sky. I remain on the right side of the road, because a constant stream of emergency vehicles races past me, sirens blaring and lights flashing. I am in shock and terror. And my radio is broken. My hands shake on the steering wheel, my legs are jelly, and I'm sobbing. It's terrifying.

Suddenly, from all those years ago with my friend, I find myself singing very loudly, "There'll always be an England, and England shall be free...Red, White and Blue, what does it mean to you? Surely you're proud, Shout it aloud! Britain's away, freedom remains," Yes, I sang that song, tears running down my face. Why not the "Star Spangled Banner"? Because I think "There'll always be an England" is a song of defiance in the midst of great peril, and a declaration that nothing can eradicate your country. That was the song that sprang to my lips and kept me going. My gift from my English friend, who endured so much that my generation should remain free.

So thank you, Dame Vera Lynn!!!! Your heart and spirit reminded me that 9/11 was not the first time that my country had fought for its life and for freedom and would not be the last.

Would the Allies have won WWII without the music of Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller? Thank God we didn't have to.

Happy 100th Birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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