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July 18, 2013

Chance Meeting At Auschwitz Leads To Understanding


The Sun of Lowell

Lowell, MA (AP) Mike and Mary Ann Durkin saw the remnants of the gas chambers and crematoriums the Nazis set up at the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in Poland to kill and dispose of prisoners.

The Lowellians went into rooms displaying the suitcases Jews and others taken to the camp brought with them because they did not know many of their lives would end there.

They also visited the lake at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a camp built because the original Auschwitz camp was not big enough, where the ashes of the hundreds of thousands the Nazis killed during WWII were dumped.

The images from the day were so harrowing they would wake Mary Ann up at night in the days following the Durkins’ mid-June tour.

But the Durkins also saw a young boy on their tour taking in the hard-to-stomach stops. The boy stood out because he kept asking questions of the tour guide.

Mary Ann, 61, asked the father of the boy what brought their family to Auschwitz.

The man, whose family was from Texas, said they came because his wife’s father was Polish and had been forced to work at Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Then/now Auschwitz concentration camp rail station (c) BBC

His father-in-law was just 16 when he arrived at the camp, which was the first one opened in Germany and the model for others the Nazis set up.

The father of the young boy also said his father-in-law never talked about his job at Dachau, but the family heard from other family members that like other young men, his job was taking dead bodies out of the gas chambers to the crematoriums.

Those on the Auschwitz tour learned that once the young men had held their jobs for a short while and knew how the concentration camps worked, they were killed by the Nazis. It was part of their efforts to prevent information about what went on at the camps from the outside world.

Upon escaping death because the Americans liberated the camp in 1945, the man’s father-in-law made his way to the U.S. and refused to return to Poland.

When the man finished speaking, Mike Durkin told him that his father was at Dachau, too.

Brendan Durkin, Mike’s father, has only started talking about his service in the U.S. Army during World War II in recent years.

The 87-year-old says he is hesitant to share because he says he does not want to talk about killing people.

But he does remember April 29, 1945—the day he and other American troops liberated Dachau.

Brendan Durkin was only 19 at the time and was back in action for the third time during the war after twice battling back from injuries and receiving a Purple Heart. He was one of four Durkin brothers to serve in the war at the same time.

When the Americans reached Dachau, Brendan Durkin was on the first American halftrack into the camp.

At the final roll call days earlier, more than 30,000 prisoners were counted at the camp.

But by the time Americans arrived, thousands of prisoners were gone, taken on a death march south by the Nazis three days before. The remaining prisoners Durkin saw were in bed and looked weak.

``They were piled six high on a thin, thin mattress with just hay on it,’’ said Brendan. ``It was awful.’’

After the Americans had completed their work, Durkin was on the last halftrack out.

``I always remember as we were going out, there was a German soldier and a little, short prisoner, and the little short guy was kicking the German soldier in the butt,’’ Durkin said.

Mike Durkin shared those details from his father’s time at Dachau with the man from Texas.

The man then asked the Durkins to share the story about Mike’s father with his wife, since it was her father who was rescued from Dachau.

The Durkins told Brendan’s story, including the detail about the German soldier getting kicked in the butt.

``She was happy to hear that somebody had extracted some measure of retribution for the maltreatment,’’ said Mike, 62.

Her father had died last year at the age of 83, the woman said.

Mike Durkin shared that his father was still alive.

Tears filled the eyes of the woman.

She asked Mike if he could thank his father on behalf of her father for coming to Dachau and saving her father.

Mike, who called the moment ``chilling,’’ said his thoughts immediately went to the woman’s young son.

``But for the intervention of the Americans liberating Dachau, (her father) would have been dead and these people would have never had an opportunity to be born,’’ Mike Durkin said. ``That 10-year-old would never had an opportunity to learn about his grandfather because he would not have been around.’’

Mary Ann Durkin said she was also moved by the woman’s request.

``Once you went through the whole thing, experienced the camp, heard what they did, then to have her come up to Mike and say thank him, thank him for freeing Dachau, thank your dad for my dad, it added so much more emotion to the entire thing,’’ Mary Ann said.

When the Durkins got home, they passed along the words of thanks to Brendan from the woman whose father he and other Americans rescued from likely death.

Brendan Durkin said he was surprised to hear about the interaction his son and daughter-in-law had at Auschwitz, but appreciative.

``I was real thrilled about that,’’ he said. ``I’m just glad we were able to help people out.’’

But Brendan Durkin, while surrounded recently by members of four generations of Durkins, said ``there was no heroism’’ in what he and his fellow soldiers did at Dachau.

His family members disagree. They say the Durkins’ interaction with the family from Texas shows how big an impact the actions of Americans at Dachau had.

``This was not a giant battle, but if the American soldiers did not go in and take that camp, those people would have been killed, very, very shortly,’’ said Mick Durkin, 37, Brendan’s grandson. ``So what a tremendous accolade that this family can look someone back in the eye and say my descendant was saved because of your descendant.’’

Mike Durkin said the impromptu meeting with the family from Texas helped him gain a new appreciation for the impact all U.S. soldiers have had on lives of those in other countries.

``I don’t think you can limit it to World War II,’’ Mike said. ``I think you have to go to Vietnam, you have to go to Korea, you have to go Afghanistan, Iraq, any place any one has ever been. These guys not only defended us, but they made the lives of the people in whose countries they fought better.’’

High Point Man Recalls Days On Lone Ranger Radio Show

By Jimmy Tomlin

High Point Enterprise

High Point, NC (AP) The Lone Ranger may be riding again, but 2013’s version of the masked lawman could never have the giddy-up of the original Lone Ranger from the 1930s and ‘40s.

Just ask Les Flippo. Not only did the 83-year-old High Point man listen to the ``Lone Ranger’’ radio show as a kid, he actually performed on the show when he was in college.

``It was fun, and it was an easy way to make a few dollars,’’ says Flippo, who has lived in High Point since 1969. ``I recently started reading about the new `Lone Ranger’ movie coming out, and it made me sit back and think, `Wow, here it is 65 years later (since Flippo acted on the show), and they’re still going at it.’’’

Flippo’s introduction to ``The Lone Ranger’’ came as a boy growing up in Roanoke, Va., during the 1930s, when he listened to the popular radio program every time it was on the air.

``I listened all the time,’’ he says. ``The Lone Ranger was the good guy with the white hat and his faithful companion, Tonto, and they were always going to win, you knew that.’’

Even better than just listening, though, was actually pretending to be the Lone Ranger, which Flippo did with gusto, and with cool accessories.

Earl Grasser, the original Lone Ranger on radio, in 1937

``My father worked for the Merita Bread Co., and Merita sponsored the `Lone Ranger’ program on the radio at that time,’’ Flippo recalls, ``so he would bring home a cowboy hat, a black mask, a red bandanna, which were mementos of the `Lone Ranger’ program that he would take around to the various stores that sold Merita bread.’’

Years later, when Flippo was a student at Wayne University (now Wayne State) in Detroit, Mich., he performed on the original ``Lone Ranger’’ radio show — the same one he had listened to as a kid — at Detroit radio station WXYZ, where the program was broadcast live.

The opportunity came through an audiovisual course he was taking as an elective at Wayne University. From time to time, the radio station would call seeking students in the class to perform bit parts on various radio programs, and Flippo, who had a deep, resonant voice and had once dreamed of becoming a sportscaster, signed up. The pay was low — about $7 per show — but it was fun.

Flippo performed on several other programs before being called in for an episode of ``The Lone Ranger,’’ and he guesses he ended up doing about 30 ``Lone Ranger’’ episodes altogether in 1948 and 1949. His parts were small ones: A rancher whose cattle were being rustled. A county sheriff. The owner of a general store.

``I thought it was pretty cool,’’ he says. ``I never played any of the bad guys, though, I never wore the black hat.’’

Flippo even worked with Brace Beemer, the radio actor who made a name for himself performing as the Lone Ranger and making costumed promotional appearances as the famed lawman from 1941 until the radio show’s final broadcast in 1954.

``I didn’t know who he was (when I saw him),’’ Flippo recalls, ``but I recognized his voice instantly.’’

Flippo never had a say in which character he played on the show.

``You’d find out the story as you read the script,’’ he explains. ``We might have half an hour to 45 minutes prior to the air of the program to read the script, and then we’d go live.’’

The perils of live radio sometimes came into play. Flippo’s first time on the air — even before he did any ``Lone Ranger’’ episodes — he naively made the mistake of crumpling up a page of the script when he was done with it, rather than allowing it to flutter softly, and quietly, to the ground. The crumpling sound, of course, went out over the air, and a station technician quickly pulled him aside and instructed him not to do that again.

On other occasions, actors tripped over cables during a show, accidentally unplugging them and disrupting the broadcast, or an actor’s script somehow got out of order, and he had to ad lib.

Sixty-five years later, a few of Flippo’s friends still allude to his short-lived stint as a ``Lone Ranger’’ radio actor.

``Every once in a while, I’ll get a card from some dear friends of ours, and when you open up the card it’ll play `The William Tell Overture,’ which of course was the theme music for the `Lone Ranger’ program,’’ he says. ``And I’ve got friends who know all of this history, and they call me Tonto or the Lone Ranger. But I never played either of those, they were on the fixed payroll.’’

Flippo, who is retired from the furniture industry, never pursued a career in broadcasting, though he did get a chance to announce a couple of high-school football games and a soccer game when he was still in Detroit. And during his furniture career, he often did voice-overs for promotional videotapes.

``I obviously never made a career doing radio,’’ he says, ``but I had a lot of fun doing it.’’

Monks’ Sand Mandala Tour Spreads Cultural Tolerance


News and Tribune

New Albany, IN (AP) Underneath the hum of a traditional singing bowl, gentle taps and scrapes could be faintly heard at the Carnegie Center in New Albany last week.

Seven Tibetan Buddhist monks sat hunched over a wooden canvas, their minds focused on funneling colored sand into intricate designs.

Since May, these men from the Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery in India have been touring the United States with a goal of educating communities about peace, Buddhism and the Tibetan way, the News and Tribune reported ( Based out of the Tibetan and Mongolian Cultural Center in Bloomington, the group relies on the kindness of the support of people from the towns and cities they visit. Any donations or other funds made from their visit will go back to help with some much-needed repairs to their monastery.

While the Carnegie Center provided the building for the sand mandala’s construction, New Albany residents Keith and Anne Schmidt have sponsored their stay while in the river town. About a year and a half ago, the Schmidts traveled to India and went to this monastery where they met some of the monks. When the opportunity arose to host them in southern Indiana, they welcomed the chance.

``Anytime they can come into a community and broaden people’s understanding of who they are and their culture and the situation that they come from, I think that’s a great thing,’’ Anne Schmidt said. ``I think we all just feel better when we have a chance to branch out and know people from places we’ve never even dreamt about.

Tibetan monks work on a World Peace mandala in New Albany

``Suddenly, the next time you hear something going on in that part of the world, you can relate it to something that you’ve experienced.’’

Buddhist monk Tenpa Phuntsok has had quite a few experiences himself traveling around America. At the age of 8, Phuntsok began his Buddhist training.

Unlike some of the other monks, the 25-year-old was born in India as a Tibetan refugee. His grandparents, like many others, escaped Tibet after the Chinese occupation. Through his work, the young monk continues to bring awareness to the history and culture of his family’s native land.

Not every Tibetan monk can construct mandalas, or circles. Like any art form, it’s a specialized skill. Still, errors do occur. And monks, even those with a tranquil mind working on an artwork about peace, can still sometimes get tired and discouraged.

``We do sometimes make mistakes like the tool will fall on the mandala or sometimes the fold of our clothes,’’ Phuntsok said. ``It’s difficult. You have to focus.. every line. You have to choose the right color.’’

Eventually on the wooden board in the Carnegie Center, the earth would form from the fine particles laid by Phuntsok and his friends. Then, a grouse, a hare, a monkey and an elephant started to take shape. According to the center’s curator Karen Gillenwater, the animals symbolize the tale of the Four Harmonious Brothers, a lesson she hopes those seeing the mandala will understand.

``They have a story that they are sharing with the people who come about those brothers and how they’ve learned how to respect each other and create this harmonious community,’’ she said. ``I hope that message comes across to all the visitors too.’’

Continuing the message of tolerance, emblems from various religions also surround the circular creation. Phuntsok said he believes all world religions have similar goals of love, peace and compassion as well as the quest to help others. Each, he said, just has different ways to achieve these objectives.

In his own faith, impermanence and constant change are major tenants of the Buddha’s teachings. This mandala is not immune. Once each piece of sand is specially placed and the design is finished, the monks will destroy their finished product after having worked on it for more than five days.

Clarksville resident Jeannine Anson and her daughter Carol White watched the monks construct the mandala Wednesday. White said everyone could learn a thing or two from the experience. After commenting on the monks’ patience and nerves, Anson drew a similar conclusion about the destruction of the mandala, likening it to another religious order’s practices.

``It reminds me of the tradition of the Amish and the quilts. They always make a humility square to prove only God is perfect,’’ Anson said.

Instead of being preserved in the museum like an exhibit of quilts on display now, this work of art will find its way into the homes and pockets of onlookers. The remaining sand will be swept away and deposited in the Ohio River by the monks.

``At the end when they do the closing ceremony, they sweep up the sand and let people take some so they can have some of the healing,’’ Gillenwater said. ``But then they put the rest of it in the river so that it will travel out to the rest of the world, which is cool to think about it starting here and then traveling on.’’


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