Note to Readers: Apparently some of you were able to read this column by clicking on The Statesman link and some weren’t. I’ll do my best to have the technical difficulties fixed for the next one. For those of you who couldn’t get the link to work, here’s the column in the regular format. — Tim
Dick Dahlgren knows what it takes to enjoy life. He’s skied the great resorts of the U.S. and Europe, fly fished with celebrities, run with the bulls in Spain.
He also knows about being sick and depressed.
He’s had prostate cancer and a major heart attack that destroyed a third of his heart muscle. He’s had two stent surgeries, surgery to install a pacemaker, breast cancer and a mastectomy.
Yes, men do get breast cancer. It’s rare, but it happens,
“I was scared, bored and depressed,” he said. “Every day was a day of anxiety over my health problems. I had this big, black cloud hanging over me.”
Three years ago, he found something that made the black cloud go away.
And it didn’t come in a bottle.
“It happened so fast it seemed almost magical,” he said.
He has a routine. Most days he’s up by 6:30. He reads The Statesman and the New York Times. He checks his Facebook account and other things on his computer. By then the coffee is made. He has coffee and breakfast at an oak table beside a larger-than-life painting of a rainbow trout.
Then it’s time for work.
If doing what you love can be called work.
He sits down at the oak table, opens his laptop and starts to write.
“Once I start, I can’t take a break. My characters won’t let me.”
Dahlgren, 80, has written all his life. But it was never his profession. He spent 57 years as a real estate broker, 30 of them in Sun Valley. He and his wife have a home in Mackay, an hour away, where their guests have included actors Christopher Guest, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tommy Lee Jones.
“They come there to fly fish and hide from the world,” he said.
His children joke that Dahlgren has never worked a day in his life.
“I’d get a big commission from a sale and spend the next two or three weeks fly fishing.”
As he related details of his life, it was hard for me not to envy him a little. Before his health problems, he did a smashing job of just having a good time. He was a ski bum in Europe for two years and has fished every blue ribbon trout stream worthy of the name. He’s worked as a ski patrolman and managed a condominium development, where he spent most of his time playing tennis.
“I tried the corporate world for a while, but my buddies who did that all died of heart attacks so I left.”
When he had time, he wrote stories.
In 1972, he wrote a novel, a love story drawn from his skiing idyll in Europe. Three years ago, for something something to do and to take his mind off of being sick, he decided to rewrite it. He made it through 20 pages before switching to a historical novel he’d written in 1982.
“That one was to easier to read through and finish,” he said. “It became an obsession. It completely did away with my depression, my anxiety and my concerns about my health. At night, my characters would talk to me. I’d get up and make notes. The next day, I’d write it all down in the book.
“I’d work for five hours straight a lot of days. I couldn’t write fast enough to put down what my characters were telling me.”
I asked him if it was anything like what Bob Dylan says about the inspirations for his songs, that he has no idea where they come from.
“Without a doubt! I have no control over it. It just happens. It’s the same with my artwork. People ask me where it comes from. I don’t have a clue.”
His and other artists’ work grace the walls of his southeast Boise home. I’ve known other people who have hung their own paintings on their walls, but Dahlgren’s actually improve the walls. His painting of his home at Mackay, where he built a replica of legendary Idaho hermit Beaver Dick’s cabin, is striking.
He illustrates his books as well.
The rewritten manuscript he credits with turning his life around is a newly published novel, “Madam Esmeralda Margarita Magruder.” He published it himself through Amazon Books late last year. It might not make the bestseller lists, but it’s gotten some good reviews. It’s the first of several books he has in the Amazon pipeline.
“I’ve been obsessed with writing for three solid years now,” he said “It’s made me forget my problems entirely.”
His wife, Julie, says he’s “not thinking about his illnesses any more. That’s become more of a back-burner issue with him. He’s more cheerful. Writing and thinking about his stories have given him a more positive attitude about living and about the future.”
He’s written three novels, a novella and a young readers’ book about decline of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead runs.
The love story set in the Europe of his ski-bum days is his next novel to be published though Amazon, in the spring. A novella about trout fishing and a children’s book about the decline of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead runs are planned for a Christmas release.
His fifth book, “Trout War,” will follow next year.
“I spent eight years fighting the City of Los Angeles for drying up a trout stream. The book will be about that. It’s like ‘Chinatown.’”
If having a passion can improve our mental health, Dahlgren would be Exhibit A in the case for it. He smiles easily and often. His blue eyes sparkle. He clearly isn’t depressed any more, and thinks he may even be better physically.
“Sickness starts up here,” he said, pointing to his head. “I’m healthier now. I feel better.”
His advice to others battling illness or depression: Find a passion and use it to relive better times – as he’s doing with his writing.
“Focus on a happy time in your life and pursue what caused it. If you love butterflies, join a butterfly society. It can be anything. Think about something you love. Think about the most exciting time in your life and find a way to get involved in it again. It doesn’t matter how or what it was. With me, it’s writing. And what’s happening with my writing is beautiful.”
Tim Woodward’s column appears on the second Sundays of the month and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. He writes about Idahoans with interesting stories and is always looking for them. If you know one, contact him at email@example.com.
Oops! It appears I made a technological blunder because the link doesn’t work. I’ll post the column tomorrow in the usual format, but you can read it now by going to www.idahostatesman.com.
Sorry for the confusion.
I’m trying something a little different this week. To read my latest column in The Idaho Statesman, please click on the link below. Thanks! — Tim
Note to readers: This is the column The Statesman did not publish. But there’s no reason why my blog subscribers shouldn’t get it. — Tim
The car pulled up slowly and stopped at the end of my driveway. The driver rolled her window down.
“Who’s your doctor?” she shouted.
“Who’s your doctor?”
I told her.
“I’m seeing her tomorrow. I think I have the same thing you do.”
This was one of the more unexpected responses to my Nov. 26 column about my brush with cancer.
It was, thankfully, the only one in which a reader appeared out of nowhere to interrogate me in my driveway. Many of the responses were from cancer survivors, who shared their experiences. Almost all included encouragement and advice; all were deeply appreciated.
To backtrack a bit, the November column was about being diagnosed with bladder cancer. I was lucky. My doctor caught and removed the tumor early, and it was non-invasive.
The bad news, if you can call it that, is that those kind of tumors tend to come back. I have to have a procedure called a cystoscopy every three months for two years and at less frequent intervals after that for the rest of my life to check for new tumors. If another one shows up, it’s back to the operating room and the clock resets.
That’s nothing compared with what some people have to go through with cancer. And it didn’t take long to learn that I have plenty of company.
“Welcome to the club!” the founder of a shelter where my wife and I volunteer said when I showed up for work the first time after the column was published.
“The cystoscopy club. I was diagnosed in ‘94.”
He doesn’t remember exactly how many cystoscopies he’s had. He does remember that he’s had to have eight tumors removed.
I’d rather not think about that. I’d rather think about lowering the risk through a healthy lifestyle, and about the good things that have happened:
A few days after the column was published, a neighbor I seldom see shouted at me to stop as I walked past her house. Then she ran out and gave me a hug.
Another neighbor brought over a box of chocolates. One of my former doctors, now retired, offered to take me out for a beer. Former colleagues from Portland to Minnesota sent prayers, good vibes, good wishes.
A neighbor whose wife is a cancer survivor advised me to “continue to live life to the fullest. Make plans. Do things. Play the guitar – loudly and with gusto.”
I’ve lost track of how many readers have called, written, done Facebook posts or approached me in person to wish me luck and share their own experiences with cancer – or worse.
Reader Mike Van Vleet reminded me that my disease is “one that people can and have beaten. Some of us have diseases that have never been beat.”
His disease? ALS. His email was a vivid reminder of how truly lucky I am.
Nancy McDaniel wrote to say she realized after being diagnosed with cancer that “looking back doesn’t help. Looking to the future is what’s truly important, and appreciating your family and friends is what matters most.”
Good advice, whether you’re sick or not.
Hy Kloc said his cancer may have spread, but added that “the more we share, the more controllable the emotional roller coaster can be. It’s good to hear positive stories now and then rather than just gloom and doom all the time.
Peggy Mondada, who lost her parents and two brothers to cancer, recommended a book – Dr. Michael Greger’s “How Not to Die.”
Greger says four healthy lifestyle factors can help prevent chronic disease – “not smoking, not being obese, getting half an hour a day of exercise and eating healthier – defined as eating more fruits, veggies and whole grains and less meat.” Not doing these things, he claims, “accounts for 78 percent of chronic disease risk.”
He recommends a plant-based diet. I’ll never be a vegan, but it’s hard to argue with his basic premise, and I’m incorporating quite a few of his recommendations into my diet.
That brings us to longtime reader Gayle Speizer, who won her battle with breast cancer and added that even if she hadn’t, she’s “had a good life. Not all of it has been easy. I’ve known poverty, pain and tragedy. Still, it’s been a good life.”
Words to keep in mind. With illness as with so many other things in life, a positive attitude and the support of family, friends – and readers – can make all the difference.
This is the day I normally would be posting my blog, but there isn’t one to post. My editor has told me that The Statesman’s executive editor is reducing the frequency of my columns from every other Sunday to once a month because of cutbacks in the paper’s freelance budget. I’ve also been told that the one I submitted last week for yesterday’s newspaper, a followup to my November cancer diagnosis column and my October column on the dangerous railroad trestle bridge over Capitol Boulevard, either is being held or will not be published. I’m sorry not to be posting a column for you today, and sorry that this has happened.
Call me sentimental, but I like the old library.
A recent Statesman story about plans for a new, state-of-the-art library quoted a newcomer to Boise as saying that her first visit to the Downtown library “was so depressing I almost turned around and left.”
A reference to what was described as cramped, outdated quarters. The new library the city is planning will be larger, more attractive and have more to offer. It’s overdue, and if it’s even half as good as described it will be a great addition to Downtown.
But as we look forward to a glittering new library, it seems fitting to reflect on what the old one has done for us and meant to us.
The newcomer is entitled to her opinion, and it’s probably justified. The old library on Capitol Boulevard is just that – old. It may well be that in the greater library world, it’s a dinosaur.
But depressing? Compared with the library that preceded it, it’s positively exhilarating. The Carnegie Library, at Eighth and Washington streets, was Boise’s library from 1905 until 1973. It was small, dimly lit, and, well, depressing. It’s since been renovated as offices, but at the end of its run as a library it was dated and then some.
Late Statesman columnist Bob Lorimer described a last visit there as being “sorta’ like moving out of the old family home. … Maybelle Wallan and Marilyn McConaughey turned the lights on for Tim Woodward and me so we could get a final peek before the final rites were intoned.”
An event erased entirely from my memory banks.
The news that it would be replaced with what we now know as the Downtown or main library met with almost universal approval. The city bought what was then the Salt Lake City Hardware Building on Capitol Boulevard and converted it to a library at a fraction of what it would have cost to build a new library. It was one of the best bargains the city ever got.
Its opening was big news. Compared with the Carnegie Library, it was cheerful, spacious, inviting. It seemed positively huge. The Statesman called it “a showcase,” offering “more space and services, comfortable seating, listening spaces and meeting rooms”.
Lorimer described it as “pretty fancy,” but confessed to having a soft spot in his heart for the old one.
As I do for the Downtown library, now destined to become a memory.
One of its attributes was that as demands on it increased, it could be expanded at relatively little expense. Initially only the first floor was used. As Boise’s population grew, the second and third floors were converted from warehouse space to library space.
The main library has enriched its patrons’ lives with, obviously, books, movies, music, magazines, reference resources, computers, Internet access and meeting rooms. It has a recording studio and a children’s section that once boasted a story well with a secret door. The fourth floor houses Learning Lab offices. Activities its has hosted have covered the spectrum from classes and public hearings to book signings and model railroad shows.
On a recent visit, it struck me how much of my own experience is tied up in the library. The Marge Ewing Idaho Room, previously the Northwest Room, is where I spent countless hours doing research for a biography of an Idaho author, which sold dozens of copies. It and other of my books are on the library’s shelves.
Ewing is a longtime library supporter and was a member of the city council when I was The Statesman’s local government reporter. She was a straight shooter who didn’t play politics and was always willing to give a rookie reporter a break. I remember her fondly.
Hanging on a wall nearby is a painting of Boise’s old city hall, done by late Boise artist John Collias. John was one of my oldest and dearest friends. I can’t walk by that painting without thinking of him, and missing him.
I can’t begin to estimate the number of books from the main library that have provided me with inestimable pleasure – novels from Abbey to Zola, biographies, mysteries, books by regional writers, obscure writers, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners.
I’m drinking coffee from a library cup while writing this. It was a gift for giving a talk there. The cup is decorated with the now famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view), “Library!” logo. I think the logo is pure genius. With a single punctuation mark, it conveys enthusiasm for books, reading, knowledge.
None of this is to say that I’m opposed to replacing the library. Downtown needs a new library, and the plans for it are enough to make any library patron’s heart beat quicker. It would be in the same, Capitol Boulevard location, which is perfect for a library, and would include more space, a coffee shop, a rooftop garden, a small theater, more parking and a view of the Boise River, something conspicuously lacking in the current library.
The sooner they build it, the better. I’ll even donate a few bucks to the cause. But as we look forward to what will be the valley’s newest and largest public library, we should be mindful of all the old one has done for us. We’re lucky to have had it.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Got an idea for a column subject for him? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watching President Trump honor Pearl Harbor veterans in the White House this holiday season, it was easy to forget for a few moments the divisions that separate us as Americans.
There was dignity and levity. An aging veteran in a Hawaiian shirt spontaneously broke into song, singing a chorus of “Remember Pearl Harbor” without missing a beat or a lyric. The president and vice president were respectful. It was, for a fleeting moment, more like the way our country used to be, before we became so divided that bridging the divide seems almost impossible.
The veterans reminded me of World War II veterans it has been my privilege to know. To a person, they set an example by the way they lived. They were honest, decent people. They lived by and exemplified the principles on which our country was founded. They suffered greatly and thousands of them died during their war, but despite what they had to endure there is at least one way in which I’ve always envied their generation.
And never more than now.
The WWII generation was the last to experience what it was like for the entire country to pull together for an extended time. Everyone from soldiers on the battlefield to families growing victory gardens was on the same page. Never in our history has our name, the United States of America, been more apt.
The leader of our troops and later of our country was a five-star general whose honesty and integrity were unquestioned. The term “sexual harassment” was yet to be invented. Incidents of it undoubtedly happened, but compared with today, society in general was almost puritanical. The actors on a popular television program weren’t allowed to use the word “pregnant,” even though the star of the show was. Network executives deemed it too vulgar for public consumption.
Fast forward to the present. This fall I checked out a show that reviewers have called one of the best of the season and was stunned to see what once would have been considered hard core pornography.
If it’s on TV in prime time, on programs judged to be among the best, it must be acceptable, right? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that sexual harassment is making headlines.
Two of our last four presidents have lied in public and been accused of sexual improprieties. In Congress, sexual harassment scandals are more common than legislative achievements. And doing the right thing now appears to be secondary to doing whatever helps the political party.
Dishonesty is something we’ve come to expect from our leaders. Members of Congress have lied repeatedly in covering up improper behavior and used our tax money to pay for the coverups. The president, according to the Washington Post, was responsible for more than 1,300 misleading statements or verifiable lies by early October.
Some would dismiss this as “fake news,” an alternative reality in which legitimate news is rejected. Most Americans would agree, however, that the media – led by the Post – did a pretty good job of serving the public interest during Watergate. And if not the media, who else will fill the watchdog role that has served our country so well since its inception? The founding fathers knew exactly what they were doing when they made freedom of the press the first amendment. To attack it is to threaten our democracy.
In the year that is about to end, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, former presidents, entertainers, even private citizens have publicly been insulted as hacks, losers, fools, dummies, dopes, fat pigs … Since when is this considered acceptable public behavior from our leaders?
The crowds at last year’s campaign rallies were marked by insults, fistfights, vulgar placards and T-shirts and attacks on journalists covering the campaign. At least one network considered it alarming enough that it hired body guards to protect one of its reporters.
If our leaders are a reflection of our society, maybe we deserve the kind of leadership we have. And maybe, just maybe, society is beginning a new phase.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy for it to happen, but the outpouring of compassion and support for victims of terrorism, fires, floods and other tragedies shows that we’re still capable of pulling together, that unity is still possible in our divided nation.
The special election in Alabama was another encouraging sign. It wasn’t just a political victory for one party. It was a sign that regardless of party affiliations, voters have had enough disgraceful behavior from their leaders and won’t take it any more because we’re better than that.
And, as the special election in Alabama has shown, there still are plenty of Americans who value integrity and honorable conduct. Society will never return to what it was during WWII, and in some ways that’s a good thing, but maybe we can return to having more respect for doing the right thing and voting for leaders who feel the same way.
My Christmas wish for the coming year is that we’ll begin to bridge the divide that separates us, and that civility again will have a place in our affairs of state. Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, we’re all still Americans.
Peace on Earth and good will toward men may be too much to hope for in today’s world. But we can hope, and pray, that the new year will bring a renewed commitment to common decency, and the enduring values that unite us as Americans.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Have an idea for a column subject for him? Contact him at email@example.com.
All my life I’ve been dodging bullets.
The mental illnesses that have affected three generations of my family bypassed me.
When I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, it turned out to be something harmless instead.
When it was sending virtually everyone to Vietnam during the war there, the Navy sent me to fight the Cold War in Germany.
So it was a shock when I was diagnosed with cancer.
It should have been a routine procedure. I was having some minor problems following surgery and asked my doctor whether they’d be worth checking. My hope was that a procedure called a cystoscopy would reveal some small problem that could easily be corrected. The possibility of a serious problem never entered my mind.
There are things you don’t want to hear a doctor say during a medical procedure. One is “hmmm, this is interesting.” What’s interesting to a doctor often means a problem for the patient.
Another thing you don’t want to hear is what my doctor said:
“Hmm … this is annoying.”
“See this thing that looks like a sea anemone?” she said, pointing to a circular blob on the computer screen. “I don’t want you to worry too much, but that has to be biopsied.”
My doctor has a sense of humor. She knows I’m a worrier so she gave me a “prescription” not to worry:
“Take once a day, twice if needed.”
It worked. I didn’t worry.
The “sea anemone” was a tumor. It was removed at the hospital rather than the clinic because it required anesthesia, but I got to go home the same day. The appointment to discuss the results was the following week. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this would be another bullet dodged.
The diagnosis: a form of bladder cancer. The good news, my doctor said, was that it couldn’t have been caught any earlier and wasn’t invasive.
The bad news, she added, is that those kinds of tumors like to come back.
So I have to be checked regularly – a cystoscopy every three months for two years, every six months for three more years and once a year after that for the rest of my life.
That’s if the cancer doesn’t return. If it does, it will have to be removed and the clock resets.
On one hand, it didn’t seem fair. That type of cancer usually happens to people who smoke or have been exposed to certain types of chemicals. I tried to start smoking half a dozen times as a teenager, got sick every time and finally gave up, not realizing at the time how lucky that was. And to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been exposed to hazardous chemicals.
So why me? Probably everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer asks that. The answer is that there isn’t an answer so there’s no point in dwelling on it. And relatively speaking, I’m lucky. I have an excellent doctor and live in a time when medical science makes this sort of thing manageable. Compared with people who had the same diagnosis a generation or two ago, I’m getting off easy.
Still, there’s something about being told you have cancer that rattles you deep down. We spend most of our lives living as if we’ll live forever. We know we’re mortal, obviously, and that the end could come at any time. But it seems far away, almost theoretical.
Until you’re told that you have the disease everyone dreads.
Even when it’s manageable, it makes you realize that you’re not invincible. You won’t live forever, and you might not have as much time as you thought you did.
Medical bullets not dodged are wake-up calls, reminders to make the most of whatever time we do have. They tend to rearrange our priorities. Getting the big raise or the new car become less important than making amends to those we’ve wronged or helping those less fortunate than we are.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a pretty good life. I’ve enjoyed good health, been married to a good woman for 46 years and have great kids and grandkids.
I was lucky enough to have been born in the United States, where we enjoy freedom and, compared with much of the world, prosperity. I grew up in Boise when it was an idyllic place to grow up and spent most of my working years at a job that was almost never boring and gave me a front-row seat to things most people only read about or see on television. I’ve been to more than 30 countries and all but three of the 50 states. Throw in Boise State winning three Fiesta Bowls and the Cubs winning the World Series and it adds up to a pretty good deal.
If a higher power had offered me a deal like that when I was 21, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat.
The first of the procedures required every three months found nothing worrisome.
One down and an uncertain number of procedures to go.
Bullets to be dodged, for an amount of time yet to be determined.
Here’s hoping it’s a long time. And if not, no complaints.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Know someone who would make a good column subject for him? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a Veterans Day story for young readers.
Young readers who haven’t had to serve in the military or go to war.
Teenagers and twenty-somethings who may never have known a combat veteran.
Previous generations grew up with them. Combat veterans seemed to be everywhere. My father served in the Marine Corps during World War II. Most of the dads in our neighborhood fought in that war. Some of my friends fought in Vietnam. I’d have been a Vietnam veteran if the Navy hadn’t sent me to fight the Cold War in Europe instead.
The point is that until recent times young people had more opportunities to spend time with combat veterans. They grew up with them, knew them personally, knew what they did for our country. That changed to a significant degree with the advent of the volunteer military. It’s not as common for young people today to know veterans or to understand and appreciate what they went through to give us the country we have today.
So, all you young folks who don’t know a combat veteran … meet Charles “Chick” Blakley.
Blakley wasn’t a general or an admiral. He isn’t a Medal of Honor recipient; he wasn’t famous for what he did in World War II. He was just an ordinary soldier who grew up on a farm near Parma. One of millions of ordinary soldiers who won an extraordinary victory that saved the world from a terrible fate. If you don’t appreciate what they went though or know how much we owe them, maybe his story will help you understand.
Blakley joined the army in August, 1942. For those of you who are sketchy about the history of that era, this was eight months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, an American Naval base in Hawaii, in a sneak attack that killed thousands of our sailors. It was what brought the U.S. into WWII. Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany, meanwhile, had defeated and occupied much of Europe and was murdering thousands of Jewish civilians in concentration camps. It was one of history’s darkest periods.
Blakley was one of 16 million Americans who went to war to stop Germany, Japan and their allies from ruling the world. He was 20 years old. He’d taken flying lessons and gotten a private pilot’s license as a student at the College of Idaho in Caldwell so he was assigned to the Army Air Corps. The army taught him how to work on B-24 Liberator bombers.
“I thought I was going to be a B-24 mechanic,” he said, “but then they sent me to a gunnery school in Texas.”
Instead of working on bombers, he became an aerial gunner – one of the scariest jobs imaginable. You stand behind a window with enemy fighter planes shooting at you. You shoot back, but the odds favor the guys in the fast, maneuverable fighter planes over the sitting ducks in the bomber windows. Blakley’s post as a waist gunner was the most vulnerable position on a B-24.
He went on eight missions, bombing a German-controlled heavy water (nuclear) plant in Norway, V-1 rocket plants in Nazi-occupied France and other targets.
“Actually, I went on seven and a half missions,” he said with a wry smile.
On Jan 21, 1944, his plane was shot down over France. The crew members attempted to parachute to safety, but not all of them made it. All four of the officers were killed – including the pilot, whose parachute either didn’t open or caught fire. Blakley landed safely in some trees, but was far from being out of the woods. German soldiers invariably searched for crash survivors. Two members of his crew were caught and became prisoners of war.
“I saw a trail through the trees and started running,” he said. “After a while I saw some people coming the other way so I hid behind a bush. I could see them as they went by. There was a woman and one of the guys from our crew with them so I jumped out and joined them.”
The people were members of the Resistance, French civilians who, among other things, helped soldiers trapped in Nazi-occupied territory. They hid Blakley and three other members of his crew while arrangements were made for them to catch a train to Paris. From there they would head south toward Spain and freedom. The Resistance supplied them with civilian clothes (his flight boots were replaced with patent leather dress shoes) and forged French ID papers.
The men stayed in Resistance safe houses in Paris before boarding trains heading south. At one of the stops, they jumped off of the train when it slowed down, hid until the train station’s lights went out and walked all night to a farm, where they slept in a barn.
“To stay warm, we’d take our shoes off, lie down with our feet in the armpits of the guy across from us and cover ourselves up with hay. We hadn’t had anything to eat since we left Paris. Our first meal in five days was the boiled insides of a sheep.”
They stayed there for a week, then started walking toward Spain.
“We spent 13 nights walking across the Pyrenees mountains in waist-deep snow. The last couple of hundred feet was a glacier. It took about two hours to climb it.”
In patent leather dress shoes.
To keep his legs from freezing, he used a trick he’d learned growing up on the farm outside of Parma. There, he’d made leggings out of gunny sacks to keep his legs warm in the winter. In the Pyrenees, he used pieces of an overcoat to make leggings that kept his legs from freezing in the snow.
In January of 1944, the men reached a small town near the Spanish border. From there, two members of the Resistance drove them to Barcelona, Spain and the British consulate there. Blakley was sent from there to London and then back to the U.S.
He spent six months in an army hospital in Spokane for, as he put it, “nerves.” Today we call it post traumatic stress syndrome. He served out the duration of the war as a training instructor, returned to Idaho and a career with Idaho Power, raised a family.
I asked him how he thought the world would be different if we’d lost WWII.
“It wouldn’t be the way it is; that’s for sure. I don’t know if it would be as bad as N. Korea is today, but it definitely wouldn’t be the world we know.”
No, it wouldn’t. If not for 16 million Charles Blakleys, we might be living under a dictatorship with few if any of the freedoms or luxuries we take for granted. Like people in N. Korea, we could be living with torture and starvation.
Blakley will be 96 years old this month, on the day after Thanksgiving. When you think about the things you’re grateful for that day, you might want to include the veterans who helped make them possible.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Know someone who’d make a good column subject for him? Contact him at email@example.com.