Classic Poet

John Knoepfle was bitten by the writing bug in high school in the 1930s while studying Macbeth and other classic literature. “It was intriguing,” says Knoepfle. “By the time I was a senior I was trying to do some of my own. It was very bad and I was very proud of it.”

Today, more than 70 years later, the bug bite hasn’t gone away, but his work has improved. Tremendously, in fact. The 87-year-old Knoepfle has authored more than a dozen books and edited many more. He’s earned fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Mark Twain Award for Contributions to Midwestern Literature, Author of the Year from the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and the Illinois Literary Heritage Award from the Illinois Center for the Book.

Knoepfle spent his career in the writing world, teaching at various universities in Missouri and Illinois while earning his PhD in English at Saint Louis University in 1965. Ultimately he landed at the University of Illinois-Springfield, where he retired as professor emeritus of literature. Surprisingly perhaps for a future lit professor, Knoepfle entered Xavier in 1941 on a football scholarship but lost it after the first year when the program was scaled back. Nevertheless, Knoepfle’s professional fate was sealed once he connected with Paul Sweeney, S.J., founder of the Mermaid Tavern, an undergraduate creative writing club.

As he grew more serious about a career in literature, Knoepfle says he didn’t get much support. “My mother couldn’t figure out where I had come from and my Aunt Augie thought I was crazy, but you do what you want to do,” Knoepfle says. After serving overseas during WWII,

he returned to Xavier to graduate with a bachelor of philosophy in 1947 and master of arts in 1949.

So does the octogenarian still write? You bet. “I try to scratch out a few lines every day,” he says. With a pencil. Knoepfle has a love-hate relationship with the Internet. “It’s a new era. It’s hateful,” he says. “I think everybody hates computers. They demand so much. But the other side of it, if you’re solitary, it gives you something to do.” Still, the “old poet,” as he refers to himself, appears to embrace it on some level. See www.johnknoepfle.com for proof.

The Revelation

There’s something about Mary. The Mother of Jesus has had a profound impact on countless people over the last 2,000 years. Cathedrals were built in her name. Religious orders were created to honor her. Many have and continue to pray to her. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that two Xavier professors and one alumna found their lives dramatically impacted by her in their own way during recent pilgrimages.
But what is surprising is what they learned about her. It was different. Unknown—or at the very least, certainly not well known.

BlkMadonnaFinalIMG_8063c2For each of the last four summers, Xavier has offered a pilgrimage to Spain and Rome to learn about Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. Pilgrims tour the Loyola family castle, visit the city of Manresa where he lived in a cave for a year, see the apartment in Rome where he led the early Jesuit order. And though they went at different times and with different purposes, professors Sarah Melcher and Margo Heydt, and alumna and former adjunct art faculty member Holly Schapker were struck by a similar observation: Wherever they went,
there was Mary.

In sculptures, paintings, bas-reliefs and other artworks, Mary was everywhere. While Loyola’s experience at Manresa is best known for the Spiritual Exercises he wrote while living in a nearby cave, all three were struck by the overwhelming evidence that it was Loyola’s devotion to Mary that led him to take up the life of a religious man—vowing himself to poverty and chastity, and later founding the Jesuit order.

So moved by this revelation, all three returned and began expressing their experience in their own professional ways—Schapker through her art, the professors in the writing of a chapter in a book being published this year.

THE PROFESSORS

“I was really just curious about the Jesuits,” Heydt says. A longtime associate professor of social work, Heydt was scheduled to co-teach a new course on Religion, Ethics and Professional Practice and was looking to beef up her understanding of the Jesuit order and its influence on universities like Xavier.For Melcher, a tenured associate professor of theology and a linguist, Ignatius was already a familiar soul. “I just thought the trip would be a great way to find out more about Ignatius and the first Jesuits,” she says. “I love Ignatian spirituality and wanted to know more about it.”

From their first stop at the Loyola Family Castle where Ignatius was born, the pattern began to emerge. In the ceiling of the sanctuary where Ignatius was baptized after his birth in 1491 were EpiphanyfinalIMG_8057b++faded frescoes of women saints. Beneath the marble floors were the vaulted graves of saints, some of whom were women. One room had handmade dioramas lining the walls. The image of Mary was everywhere.

“We kept saying to each other, ‘Wow look at all this stuff about Mary. I don’t remember reading about that in the books’, ” Melcher says.
Another room included 26 mini-carvings depicting the important moments in Ignatius’ life: gazing at a vision of Mary while recuperating from his wounds, caused when a cannonball landed on his legs; wanting to murder a Muslim traveler who questioned the Virgin birth, but choosing not to; surrendering his sword before the Black Madonna statue at Montserrat after an all-night vigil. When they ventured into the Monastery of St. Ignatius, they entered a room where he was hospitalized after being wounded in battle. In the room was a depiction of the ailing Ignatius, life-sized, gazing at Mary hovering above him. In the castle, another statue that struck them was of Ignatius holding, almost cradling, a doll-sized statue of Mary.

“I think it was a way to express his devotion to her, showing that he always carries Mary with him,” Melcher says. As they worked their way through the weeklong pilgrimage, every site from Spain to Rome brought examples of artwork portraying Mary’s importance to Ignatius. At Manresa, where Ignatius lived in a cave for nearly a year, were two bas relief sculptures of him writing the Spiritual Exercises while looking at a vision of Mary and child.

And throughout Spain, they noticed, Mary was a strong, powerful upright figure in contrast to the traditional Mary draped in layers of blue cloth with her demure, downcast eyes. The trip, says Heydt, was eye-opening. “What we uncovered, or discovered, was surprising,” she says. “From day one, the evidence kept building that Mary was the influence that got him interested in going to Rome, writing the Spiritual Exercises, laying his sword down in front of the Black Madonna. The story is that Mary played a role all the way through, and that’s not in the books.”

“In some ways he was ahead of his time,” says Melcher, “and in some ways he was a product of his time. He did seem to reach out more to women than other men of his age. The Inquisition questioned his relationship with women to whom he would give the Spiritual Exercises, and he was always exonerated.” Heydt and Melcher have since written a paper they presented at a conference. It is being included as a chapter in a book, “Jesuit and Feminist Education: Intersections in Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century,” from Fordham University Press. “You can’t not be changed,” says Heydt. “It’s not just about him caring for women but his social justice and attention to social issues that really grabbed me. I have respect for how revolutionary that was.”

THE ARTIST

“I wasn’t even going to focus on Mary,” Schapker says. “My first painting was of Ignatius. I wanted to include Mary, but I didn’t have the foresight to know what was going to happen. I just did the next thing. “ Call it divine intervention. Seeking to create an exhibit around Ignatius, thinking it made sense for a venue like the Xavier University Art Gallery, Schapker decided to join the Ignatian pilgrimage to get a first-hand sense of the landscape and places that inspired Ignatius.

On her journey, she met William T. Oulvey, S.J., the USA Regional Secretary at the Jesuit General ManresaLadyFinalIMG_8069b+2bCuria in Rome, after hearing him give a talk. “He told me to pay attention to Ignatius’ relationship with Our Lady of the Way,” says Schapker. “He planted a seed in my mind.” In the end, Mary would be referenced in 18 of the 25 pieces she created for her Loyola exhibit, Adsum: Contemporary Paintings on Ignatian Spirituality. Some of the Marian references are subtle, others obvious. In “Ignatius Portrait,” for example, contemporary maps embedded in Ignatius’ garment represent his close relationship with Our Lady of the Way. The “Black Madonna of Montserrat,” on the other hand, represents the spot where the erstwhile warrior is believed to have laid his battle sword at the foot of the ancient statue.

“Every painting I did was preparation for the next painting,” Schapker says. “At the time, I was doing what I know, and that influenced my next decision and that influenced my next decision. I was more a listener than a planner.” The message she received was unexpected and powerful. “Not only was I surprised that he had this close relationship with Mary,” Schapker says, “but that I developed a close relationship with Mary through Ignatius as a result of the pilgrimage and doing the Spiritual Exercises.”

The combined experiences have changed Schapker’s life, personally and professionally. “I’ve gone from being the creator of my work to a co-creator with God,” she says. “This is a major difference in my creative process. I hope to be more open, to allow my paintings to speak to me rather than me pre-designing them in my mind.”

Schapker says she now views the world from a more spiritual perspective. “I am experiencing more moments in my studio that seem magical,” Schapker says. “My heart is guiding my hands without reason. I am experiencing timelessness as I am in the present and filled with love. This morning I was working on a seascape and painting highlights on the water. I felt as though I could continue working on the same piece with joy for about 10,000 years. Connecting Mary with Mother Earth helps me understand her power, tenderness and unconditional love. When I hike, I feel embraced as I am surrounded by her grace in the dirt, trees, wind and animals.”

By giving up his worldly wealth and title in the name of Christ, Ignatius became more connected to nature as a “pilgrim who mapped a path to God,” Schapker says in the summary of her painting of the hole-laden shoes. Schapker refers to her exhibit as simply “Adsum,” a Latin phrase meaning, “I am here.” Some Biblical scholars say Mary used it in response to the Angel Gabriel’s message that she had been chosen by God to bear his only son. Indeed, Schapker’s exhibit embodies Mary’s influence on Ignatius as much as it reveals the Blessed Mother’s impact on her as an artist in contemporary times. “I feel like I’ve been guided in my work,” she says.

See more of Schapker’s art at www.hollyschapker.com

Signature Moment

Slipping his lanky frame into the driver’s seat of a beat-up Army Jeep, Paul O’Connor takes hold of the wheel and glances around for his two companions. They’re squeezing in where they can among packed supplies of candy, clothing, food and salt. Anticipating delivering the supplies to their fellow Jesuit priests who’ve been stuck in the middle of Tokyo for the duration of the war, the three Jesuits pull out from the naval base at Yokosuka, Japan, “with nothing but light hearts and crosses on our collars,” and enter the ravaged city of Tokyo.

The ink has barely dried on the surrender documents signed by the Allied commanders and the Japanese, officially ending World War II. But O’Connor and his fellow chaplains, all serving on U.S. Navy warships anchored around Tokyo Harbor, know that the Jesuit professors at Sophia University have been holed up and isolated from the rest of the world as the war raged around them. There’s been no word, and O’Connor doesn’t know if they’re injured or starving, or even if they’re alive. But he’s sure they could use some help.

[More: View a photo gallery of O’Connor, read his war letters and read about one Xavier alum’s experience as a POW.]

The trip is treacherous. The Jeep dodges rubble and debris in the roadways, rapidly filling with ragged Japanese civilians carrying bundles and pulling ox carts as they return from hiding in the hills. Their homes are obliterated. The streets are chaotic. The road signs are gone. O’Connor comes upon an Army convoy carrying news correspondents to Gen. Douglas McArthur’s headquarters in Yokohama. Seeing an opportunity, he slips the Jeep into the convoy and quietly passes through several sentry posts before cutting away in the center of the city.

Now the priests are on their own, trying to find their way to the university in the center of Tokyo so they can rescue the Jesuits. The city won’t officially be scouted and secured for another day, but the priests are on a mission, and nothing, it seems, can stop them.

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The Signing
O’Connor’s trip through Tokyo took place only three days after the monumental events of Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed the formal documents of surrender on board the USS Missouri—65 years ago. O’Connor, a Navy chaplain and Lieutenant Commander assigned to the battleship in the spring of 1945, witnessed the entire ceremony. Perched on the bridge only 15 feet above the deck where the signing took place, he described the events in a running commentary over a microphone to the sailors restricted to their duty stations. In letters written to his mother, Marie, and his brother, James, he describes how boatloads of newspapermen and delegates began arriving at 8:00 a.m. and how the paper in MacArthur’s hand trembled while the general’s voice was strong and steady. He notes how the Japanese foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, dressed in a silk top hat and tails, dragged his wooden leg heavily across the deck as he made his way to the signing table before a hushed delegation representing the nations of the world.
As Shigemitsu signed the surrender documents, O’Connor wrote in a newspaper column years later, his aides wept openly.

“It was at this moment that I first understood the total, inspiring significance of what was going on below me,” O’Connor wrote. “There, in the shadow of 16-inch gun muzzles, surrounded by the might of the U.S. Army and Navy, and under the eyes of the American and British commanders they had so ruthlessly defeated in the Philippines and Malaya, the Japanese were admitting to their first defeat in history. The scratch of Shigemitsu’s pen was final evidence that their dream of an empire was shattered.”

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The History
O’Connor would survive the war and come back to Cincinnati, where he was named dean of the evening college at Xavier and later served as president from 1955-1972. The challenges he faced at sea helped prepare him for his tenure as president, where he showed savvy leadership during a time of tumultuous change in the 1960s and early 1970s, which included student protests, the admission of women, and the end of mandatory ROTC, spiritual retreats and attendance at Mass.

The Missouri also survived to serve in both Korea and the Persian Gulf War before its final decommissioning in 1992. In 1998, it was towed to Pearl Harbor, where it was anchored perpendicular to the grave of the USS Arizona. And in 2009, it was sent to dry dock for an $18 million refurbishment in preparation for the 65th anniversary in September of its role in the surrender. Returned to the harbor in January 2010, the Mighty Mo is now facing the Arizona memorial and open for tours.

The significance of the pairing is hard to miss: The sinking of the Arizona triggered America’s entry into the war with Japan, and the signing on the Missouri ended it. On Sept. 2, 2010, the Battleship Missouri Memorial commemorated Imperial Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. A week’s worth of events looking at the history of the war and the role of the two battleships led up to “The End of World War II” 65th anniversary ceremony.

To mark O’Connor’s role in that momentous event, his nephew, retired Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge John Paul O’Connor, provided O’Connor’s letters and photos taken during his tour on the Missouri. John O’Connor, who graduated from Xavier in 1963, and Paul O’Connor had a special relationship. John’s middle name is Paul, after his uncle, but they shared more than a name.

“In my early years, he would refer to me as J. Paul,” O’Connor says. “He brought me a collection I still have of the local currency from all the places the Missouri went, like from the Mediterranean—coins and paper money. And I’d see him regularly when I was growing up. They called them the Irish mafia—the priests. They’d all come over on Sunday afternoon and hang up their Roman collars and have a couple of drinks and Jesuit stogies, and Mom would chase them outside. I’d listen and bring them drinks. They’d talk about sports.”

Paul stayed in the Naval Reserve and his rank went up, and I can remember when I went to Xavier, they had mandatory ROTC on Fridays, and when he would review the troops, the whole school would march by for the president’s review. But Fr. Paul would never wear his Naval uniform because he would outrank the Army officer in charge at Xavier, and he didn’t think that would be right.” Paul O’Connor, who attended Loyola of Chicago, Xavier and Saint Louis universities, was ordained by the Jesuits in 1941 and became assistant dean at the University of Detroit before entering military service as a Navy chaplain.

In a letter home that June, he describes a harrowing day subbing for a priest on the ships at Norfolk Operations Base, made more challenging by the threat of a hurricane moving up the east coast toward Norfolk that kept the base closed all weekend.

After being ferried across a windswept Chesapeake Bay dodging destroyers and their escorts, he heard confessions from sailors until 10:00 p.m. and again starting at 6:00 the next morning, interrupted only by two morning Masses. Just when an exhausted O’Connor thought he was done, he was taken by plane to a carrier farther out at sea, the USS Saratoga, that had called for a chaplain. Theirs had been sick for a week, so O’Connor heard more confessions, then conducted Mass for a crew and officers who eagerly donned their dress whites and helped him hold down the altar cloths in the stiff breeze.

“I suppose I have said more beautiful and more consoling Masses, but I don’t think there will ever be one as inspiring as my first one at sea, with the breeze whipping the vestments around, the ship steaming slowly along, rolling slightly for there was a good sea, and over a thousand white uniforms behind me, the boys kneeling on the hard deck,” he writes.

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“The Big Show”
It was great preparation for his role on the Big Mo. But getting to that ship, which lay 100 miles off the Japanese coast, was quite another challenge. He traveled by transport ship to the Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands and transferred to a destroyer. But a typhoon blasted through, stalling his transition to the Missouri for several days. Finally, he was put in a bucket and swung on board, where he spent his days hearing confessions and saying Mass for the officers and crew, often under the shadow of the big, gray guns.

On Aug. 27, six days before “the big show,” the Missouri crept into Tokyo Bay, ahead of a line of ships including the USS Iowa, the HMS Duke of York, the O’Bannion and four other destroyers offering protection. Planes flew a low cover, checking the hillsides for hidden shore batteries. They didn’t know if they’d be allowed to pass safely, or if they’d be blown out to sea.

The tension was palpable, O’Connor wrote:
“This morning a Japanese destroyer approaches and all our 5-inch guns swing on it. Emissaries and a pilot come aboard. The pilot’s eyes pop out when he sees the captured maps we have of Tokyo harbor. We steam toward land, pass Oshima Island on our left—steep cliffs rise sheer from the beach, but the plateau has a pleasant pastoral look about it … We steam in and tension mounts as we approach the outer bay. Nervous fingers are on all the guns. The nine 16-inch guns swing this way and that, up and down and up again, settle on a target, then swing around … No one says much … There is a quiet, almost desolate air about the place, no smoke from visible factory chimneys, no movement in the small towns, no small boats, too far off to see people. And yet you know there are thousands of eyes peering at you. We steam on to about a mile from shore, then drop anchor. The rattle of the enormous chain breaks the spell.”

Just then, the clouds lifted, exposing the volcano, Fujiyama. Though it’s known as the place for Japanese suicide, O’Connor thought it was beautiful—majestic and peaceful. He watched the sun set behind it as the rest of the 3rd Fleet arrived to anchor in the green water of Tokyo Bay. Preparations began almost immediately for the signing ceremony that was only days away. But as significant as that day turned out to be, and as important as his role on the microphone was, by the end of the day, O’Connor’s mind was already on the Sophia Jesuits and the supplies he needed for his trip to rescue them.

“I don’t remember him talking about the Missouri a lot,” John O’Connor says. “He thought it was a sad time in history, but I think he saw his service as his duty and something that had to be done, and he did it. To me he was an example of leadership and using your talents for the forces of good.”

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Driving Through the Destruction
Charles Robinson, S.J., and S.H. Ray, S.J., are bouncing around in the back of the Jeep as O’Connor navigates the cluttered streets of Tokyo. Ray somehow got permission to have the Jeep on his assigned seaplane tender transported to shore on a landing craft. Warned how difficult it would be, impossible even, to get into Tokyo, they have made it nonetheless to the center of the city with their precious packages and are looking for signs to the university. They’re traveling unarmed in a city that hasn’t been officially secured by American troops and are relying instead on the belief that their faith in human nature will get them through. They’re also relying on Robinson, who had taught in Japan 20 years earlier and knows the language. But he doesn’t know the way, and because the street signs are gone, they must stop to ask for directions.

The people are surprisingly friendly even though 80 percent of their city is destroyed. Their homes are “a mass of ruins,” O’Connor wrote. Most of them have been burned, and what’s left in the streets are rusted tin strips and blackened logs. They encounter only one bomb crater. As O’Connor struggles to drive on the left side of the road, dodging the rubble, he notices the few huts still standing have curtains for doors, and the survivors raise the cloth to peer out at them as they drive by. But people on the streets give friendly waves—children, policemen, Japanese soldiers. Those who give directions also make the traditional bow before speaking.

When they come to a barricade on a main bridge leading into the city center, the U.S. sentries tell them the area is off limits. This sends the Jesuits into full preacher mode: Robinson tells them he’s an interpreter for Admiral Badger; O’Connor tells them they’re bringing food to released prisoners, since two of the Sophia Jesuits were just released from an internment camp; and Ray announces they are “chaplains on an errand of mercy.”

The GIs give up, and the priests are allowed to pass. Entering the central area of Tokyo, they drive around the unscathed Imperial Hotel, the Emperor’s Palace and the ancient high stone wall, all beautifully landscaped. They find their way to the university, where bombs destroyed one building, and the Sophia Jesuits welcome them “with open arms.” The chaplains are the first to get through since the war began, and though the Jesuits all survived, they are badly malnourished. Two who were at the Jesuit novitiate near Hiroshima when the atom bomb was dropped have minor flesh wounds from flying glass and debris. Alarmed by their physical state, the chaplains quietly slip their K rations into the food packages and go without a meal.

The trip back through the city is just as challenging, and they’re pressed for time to return to the ships before nightfall. But O’Connor notices that the people are already working to rebuild their homes. The families are working together, and they’re industrious, he notes. He realizes that he likes them, and he feels sorry for them.

“Thousands have no place to live. Families are scattered. The future is dark,” he wrote. “Their city is desolate. An air of death hangs over it. In some sections the stench is terrific, a stench as of burning flesh that even now after two days I can still smell. And yet they go about their daily routine almost stoically and find time to talk and laugh and smile at strangers in a dusty Jeep.”

Linneman’s Prayer

(Editors note: Thomas Linneman passed away May 11, 2010. He was 87. He talked to Xavier magazine about this story prior to his death.)

The longest 208 days of Pfc. Thomas Linneman’s life began at dusk on Oct. 4, 1944, in a cathedral in Breberen, Germany. He was holed up in his post with a machine-gunner, and he had a premonition of what was coming. He knelt before the altar and asked the good Lord to bring him through the night.

Minutes later, the shelling began. When rockets ripped into the back of the church, Linneman and his comrade moved to the front. The shells were falling all around them. As the attack intensified, the machine-gunner panicked and ran from the building, leaving Linneman to defend his position alone.

“I was one very scared and lonely Pfc from Cincinnati and wishing I was home,” he wrote in a veterans newsletter 50 years later.

As night fell, the shelling stopped and the German infantry poured into the town. Linneman gripped his rifle and listened to their footsteps running alongside the church, and then in front. He peered out the door and saw two German soldiers 15 feet away with their backs turned. He took aim and pulled the trigger of his M1, but the gun jammed. By the time he worked another round into the chamber, the soldiers had scampered around the side of the building.

Linneman was running out of options. He pulled a grenade from his belt, lobbed it around the corner and ran to his squad’s command post in the church rectory.

He found his squad hiding in the basement. They stayed there all night, listening to the German infantry overtaking the town above them. At 11:00 a.m. the next morning, a German soldier walked down the steps to the rectory basement looking for something to eat. Instead of breakfast, he found an entire 1st Rifle Squad of the 29th Division. The American soldiers, Pfc. Thomas M. Linneman among them, were taken prisoner of the German Army. Linneman recorded most of the next seven months with brief daily entries in a small diary he was able to conceal from the German guards.

Four days later they were loaded into freight cars with other prisoners and sent to a transit camp in Limburg, Germany. At 50 men per car, they barely had enough room to sit. They were in the car for three days and two nights—a fearful eternity because they knew the U.S. Air Force was combing the countryside for targets, and crippling the railroad infrastructure was a top priority.

At Limburg they were housed with hundreds of other POWs. They slept in lice-infested barracks, in stacks of 12-men bunks. As the winter approached, the men would break their bed boards to build a fire. After that they slept on the floor.  The only latrine was an overflowing milk can at the end of the room.

By day the prisoners were put to work in the railroad yards, repairing the damage of U.S. and British bombing raids. According to the Geneva Conventions, prisoners up to the rank of non-commissioned officer may be put to work. For Linneman, the distraction that work offered was a blessing in some ways. But it was seldom easy. The prisoners’ energy levels were low. Most days their only food was a loaf of bread split between six men, and some bland sugar-beet soup. Many prisoners were ill with dysentery.

“In regular army life, women and sex dominate the talk around the barrack,” Linneman writes in a footnote to his diary. “In the POW camp, food was the main topic of conversation.”

The Red Cross distributed food boxes to POWs. They included a bar of soap, some cigarettes and a week’s ration of food for one soldier. But there were hardly ever enough boxes to go around. More often, the box would be split between six or eight men. To ensure equal distribution, whoever divided the portions got last pick.

The food boxes differed according to their country of origin. British boxes had tea. American ones had coffee and better cigarettes. Argentine boxes were especially prized—their rations included steak and onions. The prisoners built stoves from tin cans to heat their meals and saved special rations for holiday meals. For Thanksgiving, Linneman had a meager feast of Spam, pea soup, bread, plum pudding and coffee. “I can be thankful that I am alive,” he writes in his diary.

An informal food economy soon sprung up amongst the prisoners. Russian POWs—who were not entitled to food boxes because Russia was not a member of the International Red Cross—would trade almost anything to get food. A 12-jewel watch bought six loaves of bread. Cigarettes were another bartering commodity, and Linneman had his POW experience to thank for his quitting smoking.

“I learned early on that if I did not smoke the cigarettes we received in the Red Cross box, I could trade them for food,” he writes in a footnote to his diary. “It was a sad commentary that some GIs would rather smoke than eat. It was at this stage in life that I made up my mind that I would not let myself become a slave to smoking.”

Cigarettes proved to be a valuable currency. One day, Linneman traded two smokes for a quart of beer. He bought a pair of wooden shoes from a Russian prisoner for 10 cigarettes and a fur hat for another 10. He sold a chess set for eight smokes, which he then traded for a knife.

Keeping clean was difficult as a prisoner. On rare occasions, they could shower. A large number of men were sent into the shower room, where the water was turned on for a short time, then shut off. The men would soap themselves and wait for the water to come back on for a final rinse. The prisoners’ clothes would be fumigated to kill the lice—a temporary fix, as the prisoners’ bunks were warrens for the pests.

In addition to bugs, starvation and sickness, the prisoners were also victim to the rumor mill. Whispers flickered through camp that Red Cross boxes were coming, Hitler was in exile or the war was drawing to a close. The prisoners’ hopes buoyed on any positive rumor, and they derived almost as much sustenance from a few words of good news as they did from their insufficient rations. Prisoners fleeced new arrivals, guards and civilians for any information they had. At night they lay in bed listening to air raids thunder around them. Though they feared for their lives, they also wished their pilots success. In the morning they would head to the railroad yard to mend the tracks and fill in the bomb craters that their boys in the air had left behind.

When he wasn’t working for the enemy army, Linneman was resolving to be a better person if and when he escaped is ordeal. He found the occasional book to read, such as “On Being a Better Person,” by Harvey Fostick, and he studied German. He decided to spend more time with his family. He thought of ways to strengthen his moral fiber. He dreamed of going back to school when he got home. (He fulfilled this dream when he enrolled at Xavier with the help of the GI Bill. He graduated in 1949.)

Linneman found transcendence in attending Mass whenever he could. “It is a great feeling to right with God,” he wrote in his diary. “When I step inside the church I am in another world.”

Despite the dire conditions of his life, when Christmas came and the war was still raging, Linneman still found a moment to savor at a Solemn High Mass. He was in Moosburg at this stage, deep within German territory, but his diary entry that day is an example of unexpected camaraderie in bleak circumstances:

“It was a wonderful feeling and I thanked God for what little we had on his birthday, for things could be worse. I hope and pray that next year I will be at St. Mary’s [in Cincinnati] for Christmas Mass. For the first time I can say I have eaten well. For breakfast, sausage, eggs, tea, coffee, bread and butter. Lunch—Jerry gave us mashed potatoes and gravy and pork. I heated some peas and tea. It was a great meal. Supper was meat sausage. I made some plum pudding. Some of the boys were making cakes and were they beautiful. All and all it was a good deal. We sang carols as my English friend played the accordion. My mind wandered back to the Christmas formal dance.”

Outside the barracks, church bells were ringing, and the hearts and minds of the prisoners—and probably the German soldiers who guarded them—were all miles away with their loved ones.

Life as a prisoner also afforded Linneman opportunities he wouldn’t have had as a civilian in America at that time. One of them was racial integration. In February, 50 African-American POWs arrived at their barracks from a black division fighting on the Italian front.

“We all used to sit around and retell how we were captured,” Linneman writes in a diary footnote. “The black boys used to keep us in stitches relating some of their experiences. We had no problems living together as we all were in the same boat.”

Linneman hoped every passing month would see the end of the war. The prisoners were transported from camp to camp by stifling boxcars. In April they were in Munich, where the rumors were flying that the Yanks were closing in on the city and the war was in its final throes.

On April 30, it happened. At 3:55 p.m. the first American recon car and three Jeeps entered the city. The tanks of the 20th Armored Division rolled in behind them. Linneman and the other prisoners burst from the air raid shelter where they were hiding. Linneman kissed the first tank he saw.

As white flags fluttered from the windows of German civilians, the prisoners celebrated in the street. Linneman met a Dutchman and an Italian who had a milk-can of wine, so they drank, sang and danced in the middle of Munich. That night the prisoners toasted champagne with their fellow soldiers, and Linneman slept in a proper bed for the first time in seven months.

In the chaotic days that followed, POWs, political prisoners and displaced people filled the streets. The U.S. Army had not yet taken control of the city. The mood in Munich was celebratory—raucous, even—but that would all change for Linneman on May 5, “A day,” he wrote, “I shall never forget.”

Linneman met a chaplain performing a Saturday Mass. After the service, the chaplain said he was going out to Dachau, a concentration camp 18 kilometers from the city. He invited Linneman to join him. The young soldier wasn’t prepared for what he saw.

 

“Yes I have seen it, but I don’t know if I can believe what I saw,” he wrote in his diary. “There were thousands of dead bodies. I saw the gas chamber where they gassed them to death. I saw the ovens where they burned them. They were killing the prisoners faster than they could dispose of the bodies. I saw the death train. I saw where they had shot them. I saw the police dogs the SS used and heard the terrible tales of how they used the dogs. I saw the remains of the SS troops who failed to get away, mutilated by the prisoners.”

 

For all the gruesome sights, it was a sound that struck Linneman the hardest. “They were unloading the corpses off the death train,” he writes. “They were throwing the dead bodies in a truck and that sound of dead bodies hitting dead bodies will remain with me forever.”

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In 1990, 46 years after he was captured as a prisoner of war, Thomas Linneman returned to Breberen, Germany. He found the old cathedral where his machine-gunner had left him to defend his position alone. Inside the church, Linneman met the pastor, a young German priest who spoke English. He asked the priest to join him in prayer.

With tears in his eyes, Linneman knelt at the same alter where he had prayed in 1944. The good Lord had kept him alive that night, and for the seven difficult months that followed. His prayer that night had been for him. Now Linneman prayed for the world—that mankind would find some other way than war.

Quad Angles

View photos of Xavier’s new James E. Hoff, S.J., Academic Quad, which opened in August 2010.

Also, in June, the blog “Building Cincinnati” put together a story and 47-picture photo gallery of the exterior Xavier’s newest buildings—Smith Hall, Conaton Learning Commons, the Central Utility Plant and the early stages of the residence and dining complex. The blog “Urban Up” added some interior shots of the buildings while they were still under construction.

Trees and Trucks

First came the new low-watt light bulbs, then efficient washing machines and hybrid cars. Now everybody is looking for new ways to go green. Carter Johnson and Henry Link have the latest suggestion: green moving. Johnson and Link’s new eco-friendly moving company, EkoMovers, is designed to help people move more sustainably.

It’s no front. When the moving team (which includes many Xavier alumni) shows up at your door, they are dressed in smart powder-blue uniforms made from bamboo fiber. They arrive in a truck powered by bio-diesel, which reduces carbon emissions by an EPA-estimated 78 percent. They wrap your valuables in Geämi Wrap—a recyclable paper-based package cushioning so sustainable it comes with a reusable umlaut. They transport your belongings in “EkoBoxes”—green plastic containers that require no tape and have a much longer lifespan than their landfill-bound cardboard counterparts.

What’s more, EkoMovers plants a tree for every customer that solicits their business—physically plants a tree, in a neighborhood park or green space. “It’s our most noticeable touch,” Johnson says.

Johnson and Link started their company last year while they were still earning their bachelor’s degrees in business by selling recycled cardboard boxes to businesses and individuals. When they saw an opportunity to “green” the moving industry, they knew they’d found their niche.

“We saw that people are constantly looking for ways to be more environmentally conscious,” Johnson says. “Sustainability is becoming more of a standard than a trend.”

Johnson and his crew have been busy moving all summer. He’s waiting to see what the winter has in store, but he’s hopeful about expanding the business—first into the greater Midwest, then into nationwide franchises.

“Business is really good for us right now,” Johnson says. “We’re laying the bricks for the future.”

Tough Love, Soft Heart

Tammy Solomon Gray is tough. She grew up in the tough shadows of the projects. She’s also had to deal with the tough challenges of physical disabilities since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 21. So it’s no wonder she practices tough love when counseling poor-performing students as an assistant principal at Cheviot Elementary in Cincinnati.

“I tell kids, ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses. I grew up in Winton Terrace and have three degrees, two cars and a house with two-and-a-half baths. I know that hard work is the only way to get out of the projects, and you can do it, too, if you use your head for something other than a hat rack,’ ” she says.

“I tell them, ‘We’re going up the escalator to crazy, because it’s crazy not to learn something at school.’ I explain to them what happens every step of the way and remind them that in-house detention is next. I tell them ‘When you’re ready to be a student and not a little terrorist,’ they usually come back.”

Behind the tough exterior, though, is a soft heart that has led her to voluntarily serve on the boards of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati and 4C for Children, both nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping at-risk children and handicapped adults.

“It was always something I wanted to do, but now that my son’s older I can do more,” she says. “There’s a time and a place for everything. It’s time for me to do important work for free. Some people on boards bring money and influence. I bring content and expertise.”

Gray, who earned a Master of Education from Xavier in 2000, credits her parents and grandparents for inspiring her to challenge herself, to improve her life circumstances and then do the same for others.

“These are game-changing organizations,” she says. “4C touches them at the beginning as youngsters and UCP touches them as they become adults. I get them coming to me as young students and leaving me as young adults—that’s the common thread.” And if any of the people start heading down the wrong path, she’ll let them know. “It’s like my mom used to say, ‘It’s not where you live, but how you live.’”

The Swim of Things: Lapping Up the Wins

When Frank Nieman turned 64, all he wanted was a good workout. Just a few laps in the pool. Back in his Xavier days, Nieman swam for a Coca-Cola AAU team and was quite competitive, even winning the 1951 National Junior Championship in the 200-yard breaststroke. So when feeling a bit weighed down with age a few years ago, he decided getting back in shape sounded like a good idea.

Not so fast. After a career as dean and president of the School of Applied Theology in San Francisco and raising eight children, Nieman, who stands a stately 6-foot-3, found he did not have the same energy in retirement as he had in his youth. Hitting the pool near his home in Pleasant Hill, just east of San Francisco, Nieman was managing a respectable 800 yards a day, two days a week, but it wasn’t doing the trick. The scales just weren’t plummeting.

Then he noticed a group of older men and women working out at the pool, and in 1996, Nieman joined their U.S. Masters Swimming club. “I went from a rather leisurely swimming of 700 or 800 yards a couple of times a week to around 3,000 yards a day five or six days a week,” Nieman says. “The effect was dramatic. I went from 245 pounds to a respectable 215 pounds, though I began nodding off into my luncheon soup. But slowly, my energy level rose and my swimming speed improved.”

The competitor still lurking inside, Nieman entered competition with his club, which awarded him Rookie of the Year honors. After only two months of training, he placed third in the 50-meter breaststroke at a Pacific Masters meet. The next year at the National Championships in Indianapolis, he took second in the 200-meter breaststroke.

In the ensuing 14 years, Nieman’s had a few setbacks, including a knee replacement. But at 78, he’s still swimming. It’s a labor of love, because he does not enjoy practice at all. “The boredom I feel trying to find entertainment in the cracks of the bottom of the pool is offset by my meeting a group of interesting men and women my age doing the same thing.”

And it gets harder every year, especially when he runs up against former Olympians who will “clean your clock,” he says. But he and his new-found friends try to keep a sense of humor as they live well into their golden years. “We laugh about our dull sport, but we also note our trim appearance and generally excellent health.”

School Lessons: A Future in Furniture

Area schoolchildren may be comforted to know that while the graffiti they carve into their desks may land them in detention, they’re boosting the local economy in the process. Specifically, they’re fueling a web-based school furniture company called SCHOOLSin, which sells tables, chairs, desks, lockers and other products to schools in all 50 states and several other countries.

Ben Kremer co-founded SCHOOLSin in 2008. In less than two years, he’s watched his business grow from two to eight employees, the global economic crisis notwithstanding. Now sales are up 160 percent from 2009, and Kremer aims to maintain that pace.

What’s his secret weapon? Muskies. Kremer graduated from Xavier in 1997 and half his employees are Xavier alumni, including two recent graduates. Kremer’s hiring preferences aren’t just an effort to smooth office tensions during basketball season. Instead it’s a matter of trust. Kremer has such high regard for the programs at Xavier’s Williams College of Business that he’s taken to “shopping” for its graduates on the University’s eRecruiting job board. There Kremer can screen his applicants and peruse student résumés at his leisure.

“They are better students than some other schools I’ve interviewed from,” Kremer says of his applicant pool. “They’re well-grounded and more engaged.”

As children pile into classrooms around the country for the start of a new school year, they may be advised to save their extraneous writing for the white board. Fortunately, Kremer sells those, too.