I had a friend in Colorado...well, I still have her, I just can't see her, though I'm sure she's near ...
I had a friend in Colorado...well, I still have her, I just can't see her, though I'm sure she's near, still trying to help me as she did so many times in the past. I have a lotus beside my bed that she gave me, an angel on my shoulder, and my Steinway piano — she surprised me with a gift to help me have it restored when I had to move from our farm.
I bought the piano when I was 17 years old and played it for many soldiers from Camp Crowder, whom my folks would keep at our farm on weekends, and feed and entertain, and take them to church, while their own sons (my three brothers) served in the Pacific.
Somehow this story touched a place in Jerianne's heart and she wanted to encourage me to continue playing in this new phase of my life, in my new home, following the loss of my husband.
I was ashamed to take her money, I was sure she was doing without something she needed in order to do this for me.
Only after she died did I learn that while she lived a life of simplicity, she had done a remarkable job of saving for her future, and was a quiet and generous benefactor to many, including Care and Share, where she served on the Board.
I also learned that the beautiful woman many knew as a yoga teacher had earned her PHD from Harvard, and she cared about me, an unsophisticated farm girl from Missouri.
Even when she had been diagnosed with aggressive uterine cancer, news that shook all who loved her, she and her sister were thinking of me and sending me special foods to help with the diagnosis of celiac disease that I had been given.
I was not sure I would get to see her when I came to Colorado the last time because things had changed and visits were limited. But I did see her twice. There was a surprise picture taken and neither of us looked well, but the love is there.
I always wanted to write her story because I love war heroes and her father was certainly one of those.
Henri Heimendinger came to the U.S. from Alsase-Lorraine area when he was just 14 years old.
The territory known as Alsase-Lorraine was a "kick-ball" between France, Germany and Belgium. Many wars were fought there. Germany conquered and governed the region after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71, the France took it back after World War I. The Germans returned in May, 1940 for five years, but France again reclaimed the area after World War II.
Henri had children, and one of those children was Julian, who married a lovely young lady from Louisiana named Helen. This handsome, exceptional young man had graduated from Lake Charles, Louisiana, High School.
Helen's brother was already serving in World War II, but because Julian and Helen had a son, Julian had the opportunity to be exempted.
One day he took Helen down by Lake Charles and asked her permission to join the service. He told her it was more his war to fight than her brother's. The Heimendingers, you see, were Jewish. He volunteered early in the U.S Army Air Forces.
It is believed that eight of his aunts and uncles died in the gas chambers and all but one or two cousins. Yes, it was his was to fight — and that he did.
Helen wrote to tell him that there was another baby on the way. Julian told his 5-year-old son Kip that he was to take care of his mother and the new baby.
I unashamedly read the beautiful love letters. Oh, how he loved his family and that new baby girl, Jerianne, whom he would never see. He named his plane Jerianne. He wrote to his darling Helen on the Sept. 27. On Sept, 28, three months after the B-17 pilot had bombed the Normandy coast, his plane crashed.
It was all Julian could do to hold the Big Flying Fortress up long enough for three of his crew to bail out.
His plane went down behind German lines. The tail gunner survived and was taken prisoner, and he is still alive, living in Seattle. Helen was glad Julian wasn't taken prisoner, although he was listed MIA for a long time. His burial place is in Lorraine American Cemetary, St. Avold, France. He was awarded the Air Medal, posthumously.
After time passed, the young widow, Helen, met and married another war hero, Mohns Thornton. They would raise Kip and Jerianne together, and two more babies, Deborah and Stephen. Mohns was in the Navy in the Pacific on the U.S. Preston. When it was sunk, like the larger ship, the Indianapolis, the men were in shark-infested water for 24 hours.
Perhaps one of the best things in Jerianne's life was her move to Colorado to be near her sister, Deborah, who was one of my daughter Ann's first and truest friends when Ann moved to Colorado. Still special friends after 30-plus years.
What drove Jerianne to be the well-educated, giving, caring lady she was? Could it be she was helping to complete the life her heroic father would have lived?