Thanks, Mary for the story of your discovery.
I have often been struck by how many of the world's creative and innovative things only happen because someone -- some individual person -- becomes deeply involved and committed to them in a way that other people who don't share that commitment find hard to understand. Your "magnificent obsession" is an example of how that kind of single-minded focus and deep commitment can truly make the world a better place. Thanks again.
At 11:29 PM 3/9/2004 -0500, you wrote:
Weihsien rescuer Jim Hannon has been hospitalized with a stroke and has started physical therapy. Jim's wife phoned me yesterday.
My saga of finding these heroes who liberated Weihsien started in 1997.
Shortly after being asked to run for election to the New Jersey state General Assembly, I was asked to honor American World War II veterans from a group called
the China-Burma-India Veterans Association. They were holding an all-East coast of the United States reunion banquet at a hotel about 10 minutes from my house.
I had never before heard of the China-Burma-India Veterans Association. When it occurred to me that some of our Weihsien heroes might be attending that reunion banquet, prickles rippled up and down my spine . So I took to the banquet the list of names of our heroes. I found 150 men and women in their 70s and 80s, swapping World War II stories. When I got my turn at the microphone, I presented them with a proclamation from the New Jersey Legislature, thanking them for their service to America. Then I told them the story of Americans parachuting from a B-24 "Liberator" -- August 17, 1945 -- to liberate 1,400 prisoners in the Weihsien Concentration Camp -- me among them. I read the names into the microphone and asked if any of my heroes were in the room. I was greeted by men and women weeping, and I was greeted by silence. But after the banquet, they swarmed me, wrapped me in their arms, gave me souvenirs. They said I must list the name of our heroes in their national magazine and include my name, address, and phone number -- and ask for help in finding them. I did exactly that.
By the end of that year -- 1997, with letters, and phone calls, and luck, I had found them all and said thank you by telephone. As I found each one, I made a rumpus in their towns, phoned their local newspapers to say they had a hero in their town. I told their story. Many of their families had never heard it. Newspapers ran stories of their heroism.
I wrote a story for the Chefoo Magazine, listing their names, addresses and telephone numbers.
When I was elected and sworn in as an Assemblywoman in 1998, an Assemblyman who is a retired member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), orchestrated the surprise of the century in the legislature. This Assemblyman and other retired FBI agents flew Weihsien rescuer Jim Moore and his wife from Dallas, Texas, for a surprise reunion with me and Jim Moore on the platform of the Assembly chambers. Grown men wept. (Jim Moore, by the way, is a retired FBI agent.)
That's when I decided I would start my pilgrimage across America to visit each one and say thank you face to face. What a wonderful journey! It took me about a year and a half.
I keep in touch with them by telephone and letter. And whenever I tell the story to school children, I ask the children to write letters. As a result, these aging heroes get a fairly frequent flurry of letters and drawings, full of the innocent admiration of children. Then the heroes write back to the children and even send photos from World War II. Our mailmen carry joy. The joy most certainly splashes over me.
In one of my other worlds, I'm taking the lead in the state legislature in reforming the state's criminal code. These Weihsien friendships provide a delightful change of pace.