Thursday, January 09, 2020

A Wonderful Life

To adapt a quote from the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko: A writer's autobiography is his writing. Anything else is just a footnote. 

Which means, in providing this autobiography, I could bore you with the details of my first seventy years on this earth with dates, incidents, titles, events, etc., or I could reveal the person that I have become by publishing many of my written musings over the years. I've chosen to do the latter. Raw and unedited despite the changing times. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I had to think about it. The most telling autobiography would be the lives of my grandchildren. What they've become. What they stand for. The people they have influenced. The world that they have affected. They are my autobiography. And I've included a number of entries that involve each of them.

But those reading this may not know Chase or Kaid or Jayla, so that would not do. I therefore return to my past writings to paint the portrait of Gerald Lynn Fuhrman, son of Harold and Lorraine Fuhrman, husband to Paula, brother to Steve, Randy, and Suellen, father to Jodi and Jarrod, father-in-law to Michael and Sarah, grandfather to three grandchildren. And father to the daughter that, sadly, I never got to know, Jeri Ann.

I suppose it's worth mentioning that over the course of the many years I've walked the earth I've managed to obtain a couple of college degrees and held positions in six different companies. Those positions, not including summer jobs or part-time jobs - I hope I can remember them all - in order, were: assistant manager (1972), manager, district manager, national accounts manager, director of fleet services, director of national alliances, director of store development, regional sales manager, business sales manager, logistics analyst, sales representative, newspaper columnist, regional sales manager, and, lastly, manager again (till 2016). And, for a number of years I was president of our horse farm - Stoney Lonesome Inc.


I should take a moment and explain where the information for this autobiography came from. It's mostly compiled from a "weblog" - a diary of sorts - that I published in the years 2004 to 2008. It was entitled, not to stroke my ego or anything, From On High. All in all, I posted 20,092 stories to that blog in that short length of time. This while being employed nearly throughout. Not a small feat doing all that at the same time.

There is something of a reverse chronology to the material, but not overly.

In addition to the weblog entries I retrieved a number of works that I originally published on a social media site called Facebook. You'll find within this volume, especially in more recent years, entries from it that I felt were worth saving to this extravaganza.

So why am I taking the time in my twilight years to put into print an autobiography? Fair question. Most importantly, honestly, is the matter of ego. I choose to be remembered after I'm gone. The grave marker in Rome that rests atop the remains of the poet John Keats has always haunted me. Included are the words,

"Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water."

He considered his life to be insignificant, his life's work destined to perish. Ephemeral.  Unlike Keats, next to Shakespeare the greatest poet in all of history, a man who thought that his legacy would quickly disappear in the ripples in that huge pond of human history, I choose to not be a ripple in time. Most of that which I wrote over the years has already become that ripple. Of the nearly 21,000 weblog posts, I have kept only about 340 for the purposes of this book. Those I eliminated involved mostly politics and news of the day, stories that mean little now in the big picture of things, and do not add to my attempt to define myself. Of the tens of thousands of Twitter "tweets" I posted over the year I've included zero here. They were meant to be "writ in water" and, thus, have vanished forever. It falls, then, on my Facebook page for the most recent - and most family-oriented - musings to complete the picture here.

Plus, I want to reach out and communicate to my great-grandchildren and their children and grandchildren. They are me and I am part of them. That fact is important to me. Thus, this autobiography.

I think it is important to mention the contribution made by the most important person in my life. Paula. If anyone influenced me in a positive way over the many years it was the woman that I fell in love with in 1966 and have loved every day since. She was, in truth, the more important contributor to our descendants' lives. This is a tribute to her and is, in a way, her autobiography as well as mine.

I ask that Jayla and Kaid and Chase pass this down to their offspring, should they be blessed with any, so that their children and grandchildren will know the contribution - slight as it might be - that I made toward their being good, wholesome, loving, upstanding, resolute Americans.

When the end comes my thoughts will be these (with apologies to singer, songwriter Neil Diamond):

I have sweated beneath a hot sun.
Looked up in wonder at a bright moon.
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Christmas As It Should Be Celebrated

With family.

Thought I'd share this photo with you:


While the rest of the clan was gathered around the fireplace, staying warm on a frigid day, Kaid, Chase and I went to the back of my property to shoot up the countryside.

We had a blast (sorry; pun).

At the same time, both children learned something about gun safety, and about responsibility, and about busting targets (something they became proficient at quickly), and about the bond that holds us together.

Good time had by all.

* That's a Remington Nylon 66 .22, in case you're wondering.
** Yes, both mothers were freaking out.
*** Mothers, on occasion, need to man-up.
**** Hello. It's winter. Did anyone not know that when they brought these poor, under-clothed children to my house?


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Three Amigos Doing Germany

Michael, Chase, me. Atop the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany. Massive Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady) in the background. December 3, 2018.


Sunday, December 08, 2019

Father Daughter

"Happiness is only real when shared." Jon Krakauer

Jodi and me on Topsail Island, 2009


Saturday, December 07, 2019

Have Happiness, Will Travel.

When your firefighter son can't come home for Thanksgiving you bring Thanksgiving to your firefighter son. Jarrod and his shift at Station 6, Roanoke Fire Department, with families. 

Friday, December 06, 2019

The Bond Between Grandmother and Grandchildren

"A grandmother thinks of her grandchildren day and night, even when they are not with her. She will always love them more than anyone would understand." - Karen Gibbs

One of my favorite photos. The expressions captured on all three faces - Nana's, Jayla's and Kaid's - are priceless. Circa 2006.


Grandfather Riehle

One of my favorite photos of all time. My grandfather Riehle thought he could take me. Little did he know, I was trained in Shorinji Kempo. He didn't have a chance. 

Probably 1952.

First cousin Larry Riehle, Grandma Riehle, and Aunt Audrey in the background.



Grandpa Riehle died when I was 15 so many of my memories are buried in photos like this one. He was a bit of a cut-up - like me - and was the life of the party when we all got together.

I remember the night he died. The wailing and tears were profound and - for a teenager - shocking.

A good man who died too soon.

Livin' The Dream

Paula in the prime of her life riding the love of her life. Fa-Ibn Antares. Sometime around 1982.


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Chase and His Gramps


My favorite photo of all time. Chase and his mentor, standing in the horse paddock, trying to figure it all out.

How Quickly They Grow

Kaid and Jayla. High School seniors. My. Oh. My. 

Me and My Hiking Buddy

Paula and I hiked to Brush Creek Falls in Mercer County, West Virginia this afternoon. Perfect day for a hike.


Memories

How her Grandpa did love little Jodi.


Tuesday, December 03, 2019

'Dragon's Tooth' Was Calling My Name

"Winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is.” - Vince Lombardi 


Last winter Jarrod, Kaid, Jayla and I hiked Cove Mountain. Our destination was Dragon's Tooth, a craggy stone outcropping at the mountain's peak. It was a 4.1 mile hike, half of which is on the Appalachian Trail here in Virginia. No, it wasn't a hike; it was a climb. In truth I made it about 3.6 miles up the trail and had to quit. Dizziness - and age - overtook me. I had to turn around and go back down.
Failure is a nasty thing.
It weighed on me.
And Dragon's Tooth laughed.
And laughed.
And kept calling my name.

I told Jarrod on Friday, "It's calling my name. And laughing."
His reply, "Let's do it."



Today we did it.
Again.
This time I was prepared. Prepared with the three essentials every old person should have on hand:
An oxygen bottle,
Adult diapers,
And Redbull energy drink.

Okay, I didn't have an oxygen bottle or adult diapers.
But I made the 4.1 mile climb.
I kicked Dragon's Tooth.
And laughed.



Firefighter Jarrod In Training

This is my little baby boy, Jarrod Fuhrman, hanging from the side of a building, honing his rappelling skills and GIVING HIS MOTHER A HEART ATTACK.


Jarrod and Sarah - Wedded Bliss

August 14, 1999

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Fuhrman History

Here's a photo from around 1965 of Jodi Fuhrman Kasprzyk's and Jarrod Fuhrman's ancestry on the Fuhrman side, including their great-grandfather Henry. As you can tell, I didn't get my happy-go-lucky attitude from them.
These brothers and sisters were sons and daughters of a couple who had emigrated
here around the turn of the last century from Germany and settled in northern Wisconsin. 


They all, in their way, Made America Great.



And here's a photo of the brothers and sisters with their great-great-grandfather and his wife - Gustav and Bertha (Wetzel) - around 1911.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Grandfather Fuhrman's Church Confirmation

[Note* This was originally posted to the "I Love My German Heritage" Facebook page.]



In the Great Migration of the 19th century nearly six million Germans emigrated to the United States. Perhaps as many as a half a million settling in frontier Wisconsin. Towns were carved out of the forests in the northern regions of the state - towns like Rhinelander, Germantown, New Berlin, New Holstein, Germania, Hanover, Kiel, Freistadt and New Franken. And Tigerton. By 1900 fully one-third of the city of Milwaukee was made up of German immigrants.

Some of those towns, like Tigerton, were so homogeneous that the customs and language brought with them from the Fatherland lingered for decades, and through generations.

This is a photo of the Certificate of Confirmation - Erinnerung an den Tag Confirmation - of my grandfather, Heinrich Emil Fuhrmann, into the Evangelical Lutheran Church there, dated 8 April, 1906. Printed and signed by the pastor - Ernst G. Junghans. All in traditional German script.

The area was settled primarily by immigrants from Pomerania (Pommern) and Brandenburg, it is said, because the heavily forested/rolling hills of northern Wisconsin reminded them of home.

Though the original structure is gone, t
he church congregation is still there. As are many of the descendants of those original German settlers.


All told it is estimated that there are over 43,000,000 descendants of German immigrants living in the USA today.

Lass uns feiern!

Ancestry


Here's a photo of the first school built in Shawano County, Wisconsin. The photo was taken sometime around 1920. The school was called the Kolpack Schule. It was built by German immigrants out of rough-hewn logs and German craftsmanship and was utilized for their burgeoning flock of German-American kids.
Lessons were originally taught in German. It was only when the school became part of the state's public education system that English was required.
You'll notice that most of the smaller boys - and a few of the girls - have no shoes. Resources were scarce back in the day.
My grandfather, Heinrich Emil Fuhrmann, attended the Kolpack School in the late 1890's.
My grandfather's sister, Louise Amanda Fuhrmann, married Otto Kolpack, a descendent of the builder of the school.
Although my father, Harold Heinrich Fuhrman, attended a newer school in the county he - like all his friends and neighbors - spoke only German in his youth, well into the 20th century.

Prelude to War

As Paula reminded me twice, I failed to mention the anniversary of D-Day on Monday.  Since my father was a part of the events that took place that day, I should have made note of it.

As an attempt at amends, I'll post a photo taken in southern England just before the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe commenced.  It depicts the 101st Airborne Division assembled for review on the parade ground.

The men in the front row are with Division Headquarters Company.  The man fifth from your left in the front row is Staff Sergeant Harold Fuhrman.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Two thoughts:

1) By this day, 67 years ago, my father was a prisoner of the Germans, having been captured in the hedgerows near Carentan, France, and would spend the rest of the war in German prison camps.

2) How many of the men in the photo never returned at all?  A haunting thought considering this: At the time of the invasion, the division numbered approximately 6,600.  By the end of the war, it had suffered 1,766 Killed In Action; 6,388 Wounded In Action; and 324 Died of Wounds.  That tabulation not including Missing In Action/POW's.

A simple snapshot.  So much story to be told.

* Sorry about the poor quality photo.  The original looks good but the scan looks bad.  I'm trying again.

On Veterans Day

[Originally published on November 11, 2011.]

This handsome young man, who - some say - bears a striking resemblance to his offspring, is being honored this day - Veterans Day - for his service to his country.

Harold Fuhrman, son of Heinrich and Ida Majeske Fuhrman, joined the United States army in 1942 and became one of the legenday "Screaming Eagles" of the renowned 101st Airborne Division - made famous in both the movie, "Saving Private Ryan," and in the HBO mini-series, "Band of Brothers." The 101st Airborne first saw combat action the night before D-Day, June 5, 1944, just hours before the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. The division parachuted and glided into Normandy - northern France - behind German lines with the purpose of disrupting Nazi communications, seizing bridges and vital crossroads, and preventing counterattacks when the naval assault on the Normandy beaches began the next day.

According to military planners, because of the nature of the task before them - night attack, units scattered across the Normandy countryside, powerful German defenses in the immediate area, no support from the naval assault taskforce for at least a day or longer - it was expected that the division would suffer horrendous casualties in the assault. And it did. 1240 men were either killed or wounded in a matter of a few days and a considerable number went missing. Included on the list of missing in action, a dreadfully long list, was the name Harold Fuhrman.


That assault proved to be Harold's one and only combat experience. He was captured near Sainte-Mère-Église, became officially a Prisoner of War, and spent the next year being transferred from one German prison camp to another, all the while losing weight as a result of poor dietary conditions, losing some teeth as a result of unsanitary living conditions (eventually, when he returned to the States, he'd have them all removed), but never losing his American spirit.

Harold Fuhrman was liberated from a hellhole of a prison camp near Küstrin
, on the German border with Poland in April of 1945 by the Russian Red Army and, after walking from eastern Germany to the Black Sea in the Crimea in order to find transportation home, Harold made his way back to the USA.


After the war ended, like millions of other veterans, Harold Fuhrman returned home and went back to work. He married Lorraine Riehle and eventually raised a fine family - three sons and a daughter.

He rarely spoke of his war experiences. But when he did, the accounts were startling, the details sobering. He once related the story of the death of a soldier near him and the odd sound that a bullet makes when it impacts the human skull. Like a rock thudding into a pool of water.

He also - once - revealed a scar near his knee that resulted from a wound that he sustained in battle, one for which he received no Bronze Star or Purple Heart. No handshake from the President of the United States. No interview with the news media. By the time he made his way back to his unit after being liberated, it had been long healed and - as was the norm in that era - it was a minor wound, one that didn't rise to the level warranting a medal. Those were indeed different times. As Admiral William Halsey said back then, "There are no extraordinary men ... just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with." Harold Fuhrman's wound was ordinary - in that extraordinary era - and he thought no more about it. Life went on.

Harold also told the story of his trek across southeast Europe after he was freed from captivity and of his having come upon a field where a battle had taken place sometime previously. The field was strewn with the decaying bodies of German soldiers left to decompose where they lay; the Russians had more important matters at hand than to take the time to bury their dead enemies. It being the dead of winter, Harold stripped the winter coat from one of the corpses and moved on. Such were the times.


Harold Fuhrman lived a long life. A good life. Though he was never recognized for his service to - or particularly his sacrifice for - his country, he was proud of that which he'd been able to contribute. He never asked for recognition. He sought no medals. He considered his enlistment and substantial sacrifices as part of his duty to his country; the country that he held dear every day of his life - one for which he had tremendous gratitude, in which he had terrific pride.

Harold Fuhrman is dead now and buried in a lonely cemetery in rural Indiana. A military marker atop his grave simply reads, "Harold H. Fuhrman, S. Sgt., U.S. Army, WWII." It is as he would have wanted it. Simple. Unassuming. No embroidery. He served his country and that was that.
Even though he might have been embarrassed by it, his children decided to honor his service to the United States of America by placing a memorial - one tiny commemoration among thousands of similar remembrances - in the World War II Memorial at Fort Campbell, KY, home to the 101st Airborne Division. It is there for all the world to see and will be there for all time. Without his knowing it then, what he and his fellow soldiers did to preserve freedom for the entire western world has gone down in history. He and they are now honored by a thankful nation - and a loving, respectful family - and will be forever.

Harold Fuhrman's children - Steve, Randy, Suellen, and Jerry - take time out to remember their father this Veterans Day.


- - - - - - 


I lifted this photo from a video that's now available on Youtube that was released at the end of World War II by the British press. Included is a Nazi propaganda clip that, at about the 10 second mark, has brief footage of Allied prisoners captured on and around D-Day being marched through the streets of Paris, heading towards POW camps further inland.

The tall soldier at left (circled in red) is my father, Technical Sergeant Harold H. Fuhman, 101st Airborne Division. He appears to be among a group of Canadian, American, and British prisoners being led by armed German guards and officers.
He spent the remainder of the war in prison camps around Germany and was liberated by the Russians in January, 1945.


The video - from British Pathé press - found here -

https://youtu.be/jEvyEM0JdSc 

- also shows French civilians spitting on, and slapping those same prisoners as they passed through the crowd. The same French civilians who cheered the American liberators just months later (...).

- - - - - 



This is the sort of thing no parent or loved one ever wanted to receive. Dated June 23, 1944, it's an announcement to my grandparents in Bowler, Wisconsin from the U.S. War Department that Technical Sergeant Harold Fuhrman was missing in action, presumed captured, having last been seen boarding a glider with other 101st Airborne Division personnel and heading toward Normandy, France the night before D-Day - June 6, 1944.

- - - - - 

This account of the prisoners' liberation by the Red Army comes from Sergeant Gordon B. Pack, USA, January 31, 1945: 

"Soon, long columns of prisoners were threading their way along the snow filled road. Some pushing, some pulling sleds; others wheelbarrows, wagons and so on to haul their blanket rolls and the few odds and ends they were able to hang on to. Apparently there weren't any definite place it seemed to go to.

"We had been traveling I suppose to the best of my estimation some 40 to 50 minutes, with not a word being spoken along the whole column, when all at once, all hell seemed to break loose up ahead. We were nearing a small village, and there were hails of leaden death streamed towards us. Machine guns were chattering their deadly song, as rifles cracked and bullets whined all around. Soon, the heavy 'boom' of a big gun, then the bursting a shell. Soon another, then another, another. They were all landing in the midst of us. Right where that would do the most damage. Shouts and screams of pain and agony were wrenched from men's lips that were hit by shell fragments and bullets and couldn't get away. 


"Words cannot explain the horror and the blood chilling sounds that filled the air. I, myself witnessed a scene I shan't forget. Panic soon had its way, and men began running every which way, skimming across the fields of snow trying to find cover. One minute, I saw a head on a man's shoulder, the next, there was no head. This man kept going 15-20 yards, then fell to the ground a bloody mass of torn flesh and bone. 


"During the excitement someone yell out, 'For God's sake, men, keep down!' But that cry had been better if not uttered.


"It only seemed to prompt them on. Half of us did manage to stay down, while the rest scattered the fields lining each side of the road. Some were jumping in holes, ditches, sunken places in the ground, behind the few scattered trees that were available. And some were placing their blanket rolls in front of their body for the little protection they offered; which wasn't very much. 


"During all of this someone yelled 'Ruskies! Which means 'Russians', the 'Ruskies' are here! Someone make a flag, waved a handkerchief to show them we are unarmed. This was done by a sergeant by the name of Herman Curley. We all called him Curley for short. As soon as he had it finished, he rose and started toward the Russians which were about 300 yards from us. We were still unrecognizable at that distance. Curley started but never got there. A rifle cracked and he slumped to the ground a pitiful sight still with the flag of surrender in his hand. (This brave act that no other man had attempted to do should by every last one of us be remembered. For to my opinion, it saved our lives though it very near cost him his.)"  


It is reported that five POW's were accidentally killed by the Russians that day.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Grandfather Fuhrman The Lumberjack

Here's a fascinating photo. It's somewhere around a hundred years old, taken either just before World War I or just after. It's special to the family because my grandfather (Henry) Fuhrman is in it (tall man in the center of the group). He started out his adult life (fighting the Hun …) and as a lumberjack in the forests of northern Wisconsin.

Observations: 

1) The area he lived in in Shawano County, WI was heavily populated with German immigrants and - in Henry's case - their children. It is said that area so resembled their native land - Pommern - Pomerania - in northeast Germany that they moved there to feel right at home. German was the primary language spoken in many of the villages in the area.

2) In the 1900 census there were a whopping 268,384 people living in Wisconsin who had been born in Germany. 

3) I'd love to find out from a photography expert what kind of camera was used to take the photo. It's an odd shape - 280mm X 80mm (11" X 3.2").

4) The image captured is unique in that the two modes of transportation used to bring logs to the railhead for shipment to the various lumber mills on the Wolf River or Shawano or Green Bay or Oshkosh are depicted. Horse-drawn sleds and flatbed train cars. 

Cutting trees down was done almost year round in those days. But hauling/shipping was done only in the winter, because of the terrain. A lumber company would buy timberland, cut a trail to the area for draft animals, build a cabin for the loggers, and put them to work. They lived on site for months on end. 

Logs would be loaded on the sleds and hauled out by teams of draft horses or mules. When the roads became muddy they kept a water wagon on site and, at night, the wagon would go down the road pouring water in the tracks so that they'd freeze and be passable by morning. 

5) The photos you see of lumberjacks steering rafts of logs down the river to the mill didn't apply here. In the early days when pine was in abundance, they'd be hauled to the Wolf River and floated downstream to the pulp mills or finish mills. But by 1900 the pine forests were all cut and gone. Leaving hardwoods. And hardwoods absorb water. So they couldn't be floated. They had to be shipped by train. That's what's happening in the photo.

6) The train car in the background was owned by the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company (C&NW), much of which operates today as part of Union Pacific. The location where the photo was taken was on a spur of the C&NW line.

7) looking closely at the individuals in the photo, it is possible that two of the lumbermen are Indians. The Menominee reservation was close by with an abundance of available labor. 

8) Lumber was the leading industry in Wisconsin before WWI.

9) Two lumberjacks could fell 20,000 board feet of trees in one day with a cross-cut saw. Twenty thousand. With a manual hand-drawn saw.

10) The Number One economic driver in Wisconsin in 1920? Not lumber. It was number 2. 

Cows. Dairy. And cheese. I remember when I was a kid visiting uncles and aunts on huge dairy farms in the Shawano, Tigerton, Bowler, WI area.

11) Chances are real good that the company my grandfather worked for was eventually bought by - and is now part of - Weyerhaeuser.

12) Quiz: Who plants the most trees on the planet these days?

Greenpeace? No.
Earth First? No.
Leonardo DiCaprio? No.

Weyerhaeuser. The company now manages 12 million acres of forest.

13) Henry Fuhrman's father - Gustav Adolf Fuhrmann (he dropped the last N in the name during World War I) - and mother - Bertha Wetzel - were born in Germany. Their son - Henry - fought against the Germans in World War I. (!!) Their grandson - Harold Henry - our father - fought the Germans as well. In World War II. *

14) Pomerania was virtually eliminated in 1945. Most of it was handed over to Poland after WWII and the German populations therein were forced to leave. They became refugees.

15) When we were young we would travel over the Wolf River on occasion. It was a beautiful stream. But it was as polluted as any river has ever been. The paper mills were still in operation, dumping toxic chlorine compounds, sulfur, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. The mills are now closed down. Hopefully the river has regained its life.

A Look To My Past

Wedding day. January 19, 1921. The two handsome people seated in the center of this aging and somewhat faded photograph are my father's parents. At the time, if memory serves, he was a World War I veteran and a then-lumberjack (in the vast forests of northern Wisconsin) and she was or had been a housekeeper. A simple beginning to a marriage that would soon produce my father and eventually ... me.

I have fond recollections of my grandfather. He eventually settled in a fine home in Gresham, Wisconsin, out of which my brothers, sister, and I had some great summer adventures. A rather gruff old guy, he spoke with a guttural German accent (this part of Wisconsin was originally populated mostly by immigrants from nordöstlich Deutschland, and Indians) and is remembered as having a fine cigar with him at most times (I carry on that tradition - to a lesser extent).

I didn't know my grandmother. She died at a young age, before my father went off to carry on what almost became another family tradition - fighting Germans - this time in World War II. And she rarely came up in conversation in all the years my father and I were together. So Ida Majeske Fuhrman's life has faded into history. Our loss.

So many years have passed since this photo was taken. So many triumphs. Tragedies. Good times and bad. A lot more good than bad. Thanks to them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

On Top of Rib Mountain

Mom, Dad, Me, Grandma, Steve on top of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin. 1951.