The End of an Era: Rachel Louetta Skiles Davinich

Rachel Louetta Skiles Davinich

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today, January 9, 2014, would have been my mom’s 93rd birthday. We lost Mom to a stroke in October of 2013, so she didn’t quite make it to 93.

Mom was a member of the Greatest Generation, and our country is the richer for having had her and all of her generation and all they did.

Mom was born in Parkesburg, PA, and lived in Pennsylvania until her family moved to Maryland when she was a young teen. Unusually, for a woman of her generation, after high school graduation she went on to earn a degree in nursing from the University of Maryland.

The attack on Pearl Harbor came when she was taking her final classes for her degree. She and her classmates volunteered for military service, and served in the U.S. Army’s 42nd General Hospital.

 University of Maryland 1942 Nursing School Graduating Class aboard the USS West Point.

Her graduation photo was actually taken on the USS West Point (a naval troop transport ship)! Mom is in the first row, second from the left.

In WWII she was stationed in New Zealand, the Philippine Islands and Australia, and for a short time on a troop ship taking care of the injured as they were transported to the United States. Near the end of the war she served in an Army hospital in the United States. She resigned her commission after WWII upon marrying a handsome young naval officer she had met in Australia–my dad.

Mom raised five children, of which I was her “caboose child.” I’m sure at times she would have gladly fled back to active service to get some relative peace and quiet, with as rowdy a bunch as we were …

She taught me so much, and I was blessed as an adult to have wonderful regular conversations with her right up until her death.

I was looking through some old photos of Mom today, and found one of my favorites, from when she was stationed in Brisbane, Australia:

 Rachel Skiles WWII Brisbane Australia

Makes me smile.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I hope it’s been a great day!

Detroit’s Greatest Generation

The week of Memorial Day over 500 WWII veterans gathered at Willow Run Airport to participate in a photo shoot for a new documentary, “Detroit: Our Greatest Generation.”

The Detroit News ran a nice article about it afterwards, with a good summary of the event.

For some terrific photos of the event, check out the special page the documentary’s production company, Visionalist, has put up about it.

For another nice photo album with some shots of the event, check this out, courtesy of the Ann Arbor News.

My SIL took my mother so that Mom could participate (thank you, Mary – all the stuff you do is so appreciated!). Mom, who is 88 and served in the Pacific Theater, says it was a wonderful event. She was one of the few women WWII vets present, not surprising as female commissioned Army officers were as scarce as hen’s teeth even during the War, much less 65 years afterwards.

The organizers asked the vets to bring a photo of themselves in uniform from WWII, if possible; wearing of uniforms and medals was encouraged. Pictures were taken of each group of vets holding up their photos, and in a few weeks each of the vets will get their own group photo from the documentary makers. The vets are also all invited to a special preview of the documentary before it airs on television in December.

There’s more information about the project and documentary at: Detroit: Our Greatest Generation. A Documentary Film About Common Folks with Uncommon Courage.

It’s always great to see our veterans honored and remembered.

Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

Image: The USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. 1,177 military personnel died on the Arizona; overall 2,350 individuals died at Pearl Harbor on that day, including 68 civilians, with an additional 1,178 injured.

Mr. Vice President [Henry A. Wallace], Mr. Speaker [Sam Rayburn], members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7th, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

…we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

–President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Historic words. Worth remembering.

Gulf War Syndrome Report Released

I’m baaaaaaack…. been away from posting for too long… lots of reasons, a few excuses, and just too dang much in my life that has gone even further South than usual. Someday when it’s calmed down again I’ll post about it.

Maybe.

Onward.

The official recognition of Gulf War Syndrome as a biologically based illness has been a long time in coming. Too long. Finally, however, the official findings from the the U.S. Veteran Administration’s Congressionally mandated “Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses” were released on Monday, Nov. 17th, 2008.

My one-line version of the Executive summary: GWS sure ain’t psychsomatic or psychiatric in origin.

Well, duh!

It’s way past time for our medical community and citizens to quit misdiagnosing the victims of toxic exposures as slackers, malingerers and psychosomatic hypochondriacs.

Among the report’s conclusions:

“Evidence strongly and consistently indicates that two Gulf War neurotoxic exposures are causally associated with Gulf War illness: 1) use of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills, given to protect troops from effects of nerve agents, and 2) pesticide use during deployment.”

and

“Gulf War illness is associated with diverse biological alterations that most prominently affect the brain and nervous system. Research findings in veterans with Gulf War illness include significant differences in brain structure and function, autonomic nervous system function, neuroendocrine and immune measures, and measures associated with vulnerability to neurotoxic chemicals.”

and

“A question often asked about Gulf War illness is why some Gulf War military personnel developed chronic symptoms during and after deployment, while others who served along side them remained well. It is well established that some people are more vulnerable to adverse effects of certain chemicals than others, due to variability in biological processes that neutralize those chemicals, and clear them from the body. The enzyme paraoxonase (PON1) circulates in the blood and hydrolyzes organophosphate compounds such as pesticides and nerve agents, converting them to relatively harmless chemicals that are then excreted. Individuals who produce different types and amounts of PON1 differ, sometimes dramatically, in their ability to neutralize different organophosphate compounds.

In other words, if you are one of the unlucky 20 percent of the U.S. population who doesn’t have the form of the gene that tells your body to produce PON1, your body doesn’t have the ability to produce the enzyme that neutralizes chemicals like organophosphate pesticides - or at best has a severely reduced ability to neutralize these chemicals.

That means that vets who have Gulf War Syndrome – and individuals who have toxic injury, chemical injury and multiple chemical sensitivities – are literally missing the key enzyme that protects the rest of the population from the life-threatening effects of these substances.

It’s no wonder they’re ill – they’ve quite literally been poisoned.

For the full report in pdf format (it’s large – 450 pages, 7Mb), click here.

If you know a veteran who has GWS, or have a family member or friend that suffers from toxic injury, chemical injury, or multiple chemical sensitivies, tell them about this report. It’s a must-read.

Veterans Day

Lieutenant Rachel Skiles, US Army Nurses Corps

“In order that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation… let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, October 8, 1954

My mother wore army boots.

I’ve never been prouder.

Mom, from your caboose child and a grateful nation:

Thank you for your service.

Lt Rachel Skiles, 42nd General Hospital, Pacific Theater, WWII, U.S.Army Nurse Corps