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Tribute 2023

On October 16, 1944, two women stood on an airfield in Sumter, SC and flipped a coin. The two women, Marybelle Lyall Arduengo and Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck were members of WASP, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, a civilian group attached to the Army Air Force.

As a young woman in the 1930’s, Jeanne Lewellen grew up in Columbus, IN. She became interested in flying and earned her pilot’s license while attending State College of Washington at Pullman, WA where she graduated with a degree in English.

Jeanne married Edward Norbeck in 1940 and they were living in Honolulu, HI on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. They both served as volunteer air raid wardens for a time, then Edward enlisted in the US Army Intelligence Service and Jeanne returned to Columbus to be with family.

In 1943, she applied for and was accepted into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The women of WASP completed the same course of study as any Army Air Force cadet, minus combat training. Women of that time were not trained or employed as combat pilots, their main duties were moving planes from one airfield to another and engineering test flights. They could not fly combat, but they could test the planes combat pilots would be flying in their training exercises.

Let me say that in laymen’s terms…they tested new plane designs, as well as planes that had been repaired or reported as requiring repairs before being returned to service.

Following training, Jeanne was stationed to Shaw Field, Sumter, SC where she reported on May 16, 1944.

To quote a history written by her nephew, Rod Lewellen and niece, Margaret Marnitz for the Atterbury Bakalar Air Museum:

Her job was to fly “red-lined” Army Air Force trainers to analyze problems needing repair and write engineering reports for the maintenance department. She also flew repaired trainers, putting them through rigorous flying tests to make certain they were safe for instructors and cadets to fly. The planes she tested at Shaw Field were the Vultee BT-13 and BT-15 basic trainers, the North American AT-6 advanced trainer, and the Beechcraft AT-10 twin engine advanced trainer.

By 1944, most of the engineering test flying at training bases was done by the WASP, which freed male pilots from this dangerous job and made them available for instructor or combat duty. The WASP were part of the Civil Service, so Jeanne did not have an army officer’s commission, pay, or benefits. She lived in the Women Army Corps (WAC) officer’s quarters at Shaw Field and worked ten hours a day, six days a week, with time off on Sunday.https://www.atterburybakalarairmuseum.org/jeanne-norbeck.html

October 16, 1944 Jeanne and Marybelle were assigned to test two BT-13 trainers. They decided to flip a coin to see which plane each would fly. The plane Jeanne won in the toss had been red lined with a possible structural problem in the left wing.

The two pilots climbed into their respective planes and took off for the test area south of Shaw Field.

At some point into the test flight, Jeanne felt something was definitely wrong with the plane’s wing and turned back towards base but on the way, the plane rolled over and went into a deep spin from which she could not regain control.

Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck, aged 31, perished when the plane crashed upside down and burned.

There are so many heroes in so many conflicts, but many of those heroes don’t get the recognition they deserve. There are veterans all around us in everyday life who stepped up, fought and returned. There are many more who never came back and many of them never saw combat, but are heroes just the same.

This is the story of one woman who took on the responsibility of testing the planes our fighting men depended on for training and it is a story that should remind us of all the quiet sacrifices and unsung heroes that have insured our freedom.

There were 1,074 female pilots who earned their wings during the brief WASP program. Norbeck was one of 38 who died in accidents during their duty in World War II.

In May 1998, the restored chapel in a WWII barracks at the Columbus Municipal Airport (formerly Atterbury Air Base and later Bakalar Air Base) was named the Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck Memorial Chapel and dedicated to her memory. A plaque in front of the chapel on the former Atterbury Air Base dedicates the building to the memory of Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck, a local hero who gave her life so others might live.

Had a bad day? This Veteran’s Day, take a moment to think about what others gave up so that you could live the life you take for granted.

You can read more about Norbeck at:



Everything is connected.

Just finished my first week of self-quarantine which I started a little earlier than others due to a crowd of people I found myself in on the last day of work. We were setting up and handing out laptops for staff and faculty to use to work from home and at one point the IT office resembled a big box store on Black Friday.

Just kidding. It was actually quite orderly.

I decided it might be time to write about what is going on in the world today rather than digging out what my ancestors were doing in the past. This very time in our lives is the history our children and our grandchildren will read about in the future, so it would be a good thing to put away the panic and the hype and record a little of what is actually happening.

Briefly…and this is for future generations, as we all know these facts…a rogue virus is running rampant in the world, spreading like wildfire and killing mostly the weakest among us. People are mostly social animals, but this thing passes so easily from one person to another to another that we’ve been asked by health care professionals to just stay home (self-isolate) for a while so the virus will have nowhere to go.

We seem to be having a real problem with that. Some can’t afford to do this, and others simply can’t abide staying in one place (like home) for any period of time.

Being “one of the weakest” (due to age and some health issues), I’ve tried to abide by the guidelines. I’m in a fairly good place with a pantry full of food, plenty of books, and a job that I am confident will come back after the crisis, but I certainly feel for others who are not so well situated.

First and foremost, I’m loving the humor and inventiveness. Today I saw a Facebook post shared by one of my friends that said “Kinda starting to understand why pets try to run outta the house when the door opens.”

Due to schools being closed, many students are doing e-learning and being home schooled. This has created a lot of observations:

“Just saw my neighbor out scraping the “my kid is a terrific student” bumper sticker off her car…apparently home schooling is not going well.”

“Home schooling is going well…only two students expelled for disciplinary reasons and one teacher laid off for drinking on the job.”

And I love this one:

“Thousands of parents are discovering…the problem is NOT the teacher!”

Some people just cope better than others and the great thing is, their coping actually helps others. I’ve been reading about photographers who are traveling around taking “porch portraits” while standing in the street (social distancing) and snapping photos of families; and “bear hunts” where people position a teddy bear in their front window so families can get their kids out and drive around counting the bears they see; and then there’s the pastor who taped photos of his parishioners on the pews where they usually sit in church as he live streamed his sermon and panned the sanctuary.

Yesterday I went noodling around on the internet and found recipes for things you have in your pantry. I don’t know who these people are who have these things in their pantry, but it was an interesting diversion. For instance:

Chickpea Curry…seriously? So chickpeas look a little like hominy, right? I have a can of hominy way in the back of the pantry (I happen to like hominy). Another ingredient is coconut milk? Don’t have that, but I do have shredded coconut…maybe I can soak that in milk? We’ll save that recipe for a real emergency.

Baked Artichoke Hearts…oops, fresh out of artichoke hearts.

Creamed Spinach…okay, if I had any spinach, well never mind, I’m not that far gone yet.

A lot of the recipes used chickpeas…guess I’ll stock up next time I’m out; also, tuna, and I had 4 cans of that. Pasta is a good thing to have on hand and with all the varieties of tomatoes I have in my pantry, that will probably be a majority of my main meals. I think I’ll make meatless chili for supper (I’m a little lacking in meat of any kind). I do have eggs, thanks to a sister with chickens, so I will fall back on scrambled, poached and fried eggs.

All in all, I’m doing fine, and I think we will survive this, but I do not want to make light of the situation. Future generations reading this should know that we are using ice rinks and refrigerated truck trailers for morgues, making decisions on who should get ventilators (and live) and who should not (and die), and in Spain over 30 doctors have contracted the disease as health care workers are forced to reuse or work without masks and gowns due to a shortage.

For all of you who are not taking this seriously, it is very serious. Humor and tricks will help some of us survive, and hopefully keep spirits up, but this is a scary and life changing time for many people.

Make no mistake. This is historic.

Just a PSA

For those of you who expect that I will post every week…sorry. I didn’t post last week because I ran into a sort of figurative (and possibly literal) roadblock as I attempted to move William Edward and Anne Collings and their two young sons Zebulon and Spencer from New Jersey to southwestern Pennsylvania.

In my defense, I ran into a war about which I knew very little. That would be the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Year war which took place from 1756-1763. This war took place in the very area where I was sending the young Collings family in the early 1750s and I decided I’d better do some more research. Would a savvy head of family pack everyone he cared about and all their belongings to move into the center of a war with another country?

Clearly, I’m doing more digging.

However, I also wanted to address with you a small housekeeping problem I’m having. Since I began this blog, I have had to delete over 200 “fake” subscribers, I don’t know who these people are, but they provide ridiculous user names and emails…very obvious fakes…I think.

I would never delete anyone who is seriously interested in following my posts, but I only want people who are serious…not followers who wish to use my blog as a platform for promoting their own sites.

So, here’s the thing. If you are not already a subscriber you should email me and I will be glad to add you. The benefits of subscribing are two fold: 1) you are (hopefully, there have been some problems) notified  by email when a new post is added and 2) you have my eternal gratitude for being a real person, interested in my story!

You do have to submit an email address to be a subscriber, but that email is not visible to anyone else other that my administrator (me) and is never used for any sales, advertising, or other correspondence. I don’t even use it to write to you unless you write to me first.

So, just this little bit of a rant will serve as my late entry for last week. Hopefully I will post again late this week, but I will be teaching a class for the next few weeks and may run a little late.

Bear with me!!! And thank you for your interest in my stories.

More Kentucky Trip

On the first day of our trip to Kentucky, we visited the Bullitt Co. History Museum housed in the county courthouse, an impressive, very traditional looking brick courthouse.

The museum hosts history exhibits in a couple of rooms and the broad hallways, but the real goal for us was the Research Room. We met David S., the volunteer of the day and he was most helpful, pulling out folders of paperwork with variations of the Collings name. The room was small and intimate but full of books, papers, work surfaces, and a couple of computers.

The Collings group probably came to the area around 1783. Several entrepreneurs were claiming land at that time and building salt licks for the commercial production of salt, which was the primary ingredient needed to preserve meat.

In addition to the commercial possibilities, men who had fought in the recent war for independence from Britain came hoping to claim the allotments of land promised as payment for service to their country.

The Collings men and many like them had already spent time in the wilderness of Kentucky and Illinois in campaigns with General George Rogers Clark. They returned to their families in the east full of stories about what they had seen in the territory. The land was rich and fertile, the game plentiful and varied, the possibilities for a good life many.

Of course, there were Indians, but the men, while aware of the dangers, were confident that the future in the area was worth the risk. All they had to do was build a few “stations” for protection. The rest of the land would be theirs for settling.

The Collings and a group of nearly 300, traveled down the Ohio River to Louisville and from there, fanned out into the vast forests.

The Collings and the Crists headed for the area known as Brashear’s Station near Floyd’s Fork, a branch of the Salt River. The settlement was located about 20 miles southwest of present-day Louisville and by two cousins, Joseph and Marsham Brashear.

The cousins came to the area, probably in the early 1770s, built a rough shelter, cleared a little land, did some hunting, then returned east. Joseph died in Pennsylvania in 1778 leaving his share of the claim to his brother William.

The cousins were unable to claim their land legally, but in 1779 Virginia passed a law that provided anyone who could prove settlement in Kentucky before 1778 could legitimately claim 400 acres. The cleared land and the rough shelter were enough to prove the Brashears’ claim.

William Brashear gathered others willing to help, traveled to his “bounty land,” and proceeded to build the “station” or fort.

The winter of 1779-80 was so harsh and the settlement still so bare that the men abandoned it until spring brought better weather. When they returned, William Brashear brought his wife and their seven children.

It seems logical to believe that a Crist or a Collings was part of that first crew to settle at Brashear’s Station and that they then returned east to gather up their families in 1783. The names of those early pioneers are recorded on the state historical marker that stands on the site. Those names are Froman, Ray, Briscoe, Crist, Collings, Overall, Pope, McGee, Hawkins, and Phelps.

If you have been following this blog, you will remember the adventure of Henry Crist as he sought to establish his salt lick station. His supply boat, traveling down the Salt River was attacked and overcome by Indians on the way. Crist was forced to travel for several days, injured and on foot to the safety of Brashear’s Station.

We were eager to see the Salt River, so following an afternoon in the history museum, we asked David for directions which triggered a bit of discussion about the Henry Crist story.

He directed us to a parking lot and river access a couple of blocks away, then hesitated slightly and said, “You know that’s a pretty good story about Henry Crist, but I have my doubts about some of the facts.”

He assured us this was only his opinion but pointed out that Henry, who went on to become a politician and a man of some renown, had a lot of years to polish that story to his benefit.

As the only survivor of the attack on a boat that was more or less a sitting duck on the river, he figured Henry had to be a very lucky man if he was not one of the first men to escape. Then, David smiled. “I’m just saying, it’s a good story.”

One goal for this visit was to walk the banks of the Salt River, and it was everything I expected. It’s a small river and when we were there (July) very quiet and lazy. Not very broad, with high banks on both sides, it was a perfect setting for an Indian attack from either shoreline.

We spent a pleasant hour walking the banks, talking and thinking about the history we were discovering and about the ancestors who had walked here before us.


A bark or barque was a small vessel of coastal or inland waters.

The Elston’s are one branch of my family that came to the New World very early, in the mid to late 1600’s. How they got to Indiana on that fateful day in 1812 is a bundle of stories and interesting history. This is the history we thought was boring in grade school, but it’s not so much about dates and battles, it’s about the fundamental need for meaning and personal growth.

It’s about owning your place in life.

If you’re going to follow my story, you are going to have to endure a review of the early history of our country. If you see some similarities in current attitudes and ambitions, well maybe there are some lessons to be learned.

When the first Elston landed on the shores of what was then called the New World, the scope of that world was a narrow band of land at the water’s edge. Everyone settled on the shore. These were the walls of their lives, the ocean on one side and the dense forest on the other.

One of the earliest members of the Elston family who traveled to the New World, came as a servant or indentured worker, someone who’s passage was paid by a person who expected years of service in return for that investment.

This ancestor, John Elston, was a “waterman.” He operated a small boat belonging to his benefactor, possibly a man named Mr. Craddock. From this boat, John Elston and two crewmen fished and provided transportation of goods and passengers from one settlement to another.

According to passage in Annals of Salem, Vol. II, P210, Joseph B. Felt wrote, “A small bark of Salem, of about twelve tons, coming towards the bay, John Elston and two of Mr. Cradock’s fishermen being in her, and two tons of stone and three hogsheads of train oil, was overset in a gust, and being buoyed up by the oil, she floated up and down forty-eight hours, and the three men sitting upon her, till Henry Way his boat, coming by, espied them, and saved them.”

Being a waterman or fisherman was probably a pretty important job in the days of the infant settlements because fish was a major source of food for the population. The waterman’s family could be assured of eating well. Life was probably good for John and his family…but they didn’t own the boat, they didn’t own the house they lived in and they didn’t own themselves. All the work was towards buying back their freedom, repaying their passage fee. No matter how important the job of waterman…John was owned by, and worked for, “the man.”

But humanity isn’t programed to live by boundaries and limitations. As the forest was pushed back and crops were planted and harvested and animals that were brought from the Old World multiplied to provide milk, butter and meat, land became a valuable resource for the settlers and everyone who came to this country sought their fair share of it.

People came to the New World for two things…freedom from oppression and to own something they could not own in the Old World…land which gave them the means of their survival, not dependent on someone else. They came not to be owned, but to own their future and the future of their families. Owning land was the path to that end goal.

Ownership of land was one of the most important freedoms in this New World.

Why did our ancestors continually move west? No question…to acquire and protect their future and the future of their families.

This branch of my family came from Massachusetts to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Maryland to Virginia to Kentucky to Indiana hoping that their steps west would be a step up.

Along the way, other family stories melted into this family…the Crists, the Richeys, the Phegleys, the Craigs, the Nicholas clan, Donahues and Wells and Bridgewaters and…

John Elston’s great, great granddaughter Anne Elizabeth married William Edward Collings, and she was mother to William Elston Collings, who was father to Sichy Collings Richey who was mother to…well, you see how this goes. Families just go on and on.

Still Here 2

Winter scene

Another week of research and tax paper gathering and…oh yes, Indiana weather.

For all those reasons you get my rambling and unconnected thoughts on many random things, weather first.

A confession: I have a usually manageable condition called SAD which is an acronym for Seasonal  Affective Disorder. That stands for: I really don’t like winter very much.

I would love to handle winter like a bear does…go into my cave and sleep through it. I deal with it by staying in when I can, but still function normally by going to work, going to the store, doing what has to be done. I have no desire to travel to a warmer clime, I just want to get through the cold, snow and ice as quickly and safely as possible.

Our recent sub-sub-zero weather here in the Midwest, on a day when schools, stores and even colleges closed and the mailman refused to deliver, (the trash guys, bless their hearts, were on schedule), I was able to stay home with my mildly frozen pipes. Shout out to my favorite plumber who hacked his way under my home and shot warm air under there for about 20 minutes and did NOT give me too much grief for failing to leave my faucet running over night!

I’m trying to spend these home bound days gathering my papers together for the accountant to do my taxes. This is a chore I avoid like the plague, though once I sit down to it, goes fairly quickly and always gives me a sense of accomplishment when finished. I just would rather be doing anything else.

Now for a pet peeve, and I’m sorry if I offend anyone with this, but seriously…in the bundle of mail I finally received after the warm-up allowed the mailman to get to the mailboxes, I received a large packet of coupons that are totally worthless to me and go directly into the recycle box.

News flash to all the restaurants in the world…I’m one person and I cannot eat two of your sandwiches, two meals, or a 20″ pizza, so your coupons for those deals are worthless to me.

I realize there are a lot of families out there that need the coupons to be able to afford your food, but what about the one person who just does not feel like having another bowl of cereal or cheese sandwich for supper, and would love to get 50 cents or a dollar off one of your calorie laden sandwiches?

Honestly, it’s the principle of the deal that annoys me. When I want a sandwich I will buy one but it’s rather annoying to stand in line behind someone who is getting the same meal for half price just because they have a coupon and a friend. When I step up to the counter and say I just want one sandwich at half the coupon price (or can I mark one off, come in tomorrow and get the second one?) I get “the look.” You know the look…what are you crazy?

Look at it this way restaurant managers…there are 1) a lot of singles out here and 2) even some families where one member wants to eat something  besides what all the rest are eating. Can’t we have just one coupon per useless page of 2 for 1 coupons?

Okay, end of rant. You see what winter weather does to me…I get a little worked up about this.

And yes, I’m also spending some of my time researching family for future blogs, so just bear with me. I’m learning a lot of the history I apparently slept through as a child.

Just a hint about what I’m learning, these times we’re in now? Not so unique. There have been some pretty bad actors involved in some pretty shady deals, some dirty politics and some pretty devastating weather events.

If you yearn for the old days when things were simpler…sorry, you are badly mistaken!

And one more family note: I found a petition signed by several Kentucky territory residents asking authorities for land they had been promised as soldiers. Among the signers were William Elston Collings, his brother Spencer Collings and our friend George Crist.

Examining the list for any other familiar names, I came across the name Samuel Wells. That name is a common name on my mother’s side of my family and in my study of that line, I know the Wells branch came to Kentucky and lived near where my paternal family, the Collings settled!

What if both sides of my family have been crossing paths for over 200 years before coming together as my father and mother to make….me! How cool is that?


Desperate Journey

Cover on both shores made for dangerous travel.

Henry Crist thought he was about to die. As far as he knew, all his companions and his business partner were dead, killed in the sudden and brutal attack on their way up the Salt River to Mud Garrison. He had watched from the riverbank as the woman in their party was captured, and during his frantic escape he had been shot in the foot. Unable to walk upright, Henry crawled deep into the brush and assessed his situation.

As he lay weak from loss of blood and the terror of the battle, he though some of the men made it into the woods. Crepps, who had been running beside him, was hit by a ricocheting bullet and had disappeared into the brush, bleeding.

Henry was wounded and alone, his only hope to reach the closest settlement, Bullitt’s Lick. With the bones in his heel shattered, he tried to stand, but fell to the ground He would have to crawl.

Still bleeding, Henry removed his moccasins and tied them to his knees with strips of cloth torn from his shirt. He wrapped his hands with his hat and pieces of his hunting vest and began to crawl. All day, he moved slowly on hands and knees, following the river towards safety. He crawled over rocky ground, down into ravines and up out of them.

Knowing he needed to cross the river, he crawled until nightfall, then found a fallen log, slowly rolled it into the river, climbed on and let it float him across to the other side. There he pulled himself into a thicket and tried to rest. Exhausted, scared and weak, he lay on his back with his swollen, inflamed leg propped up, but found no relief and very little sleep.

Staring at the stars, he wondered if he would die. He thought about the battle. Could they have done anything different? Could he have done more to save the men who died? Were they all dead? He thought he had seen Moore escape and Crepps, though shot, he had last seen running, so perhaps they were alive. He thought about the woman and how steadfastly she had refused to move from the boat. If he had physically picked her up, they both would have been captured or killed. Should he have done that?

As despair set in, Henry made up his mind that he must move on if he wanted to survive. He couldn’t just curl up and die in the forest with no one knowing his fate. He renewed the makeshift padding on his hands and knees with the last of his shirt and trousers and began to crawl.

Sometime deep into the night, he saw a campfire and heard a dog barking ahead of him. He hesitated. How desperate was he? Should he call out for help? Creeping closer, he heard the voices of a group of Indians. Fear washed over him, and he lay flat to the ground and very still. As the voices quieted, the dog stopped barking and the fire died down to embers, he moved away from the camp as quietly as he could. He dropped into the water of a small branch of the river and pulled himself across large river rocks so as to leave no trail.

As morning began to bring light, Henry crawled up a small hill, hoping to be able to get his bearings. As he looked out over the land around him, all he could see was wilderness. He had not eaten nor had decent water since the day before the battle. Hunger, exhaustion and terrible pain washed over him.

He reckoned that Bullitt’s Lick was nearly 8 miles away and that he was able to crawl but a half mile an hour. He rested briefly, adjusted the wrappings and set off again. His injured leg was now so swollen and painful that he could no longer bear to use it, it dragged uselessly behind as he moved forward, but he knew he must keep moving.

Through another day and night, he crawled, resting—crawling—resting—crawling, ever so slowly, painfully. He could not give up. He would not give up.

As the third day of his ordeal turned into early evening, he knew he must be nearing the settlement, but he was growing so weary and so weak he finally began to consider that he might die. Even worse, he might reach Bullitt’s Lick only to die from his wounds.

As darkness fell, he could see numerous campfires that must be Bullitt’s Lick, but still over half a mile away and he had no strength left. He was nearly delirious from hunger and pain and he could crawl no further. His hands and his remaining knee were bloody raw wounds that were almost as painful as his wounded leg.

As he lay there exhausted and hopeless, he heard the sounds of a horseman approaching. Could it be? Could help be here now? He called out, weakly at first then louder. He heard the horseman stop briefly, then take off—riding away fast.

His last hope passed him by. He closed his eyes and gave in to death, wishing he had just been killed in the boat with his companions.

Meanwhile, the frightened horseman rode into the Bullitt’s Lick camp, shouting that Indians had called out to him along the path, babbling about being called by a name he didn’t recognize. The men in the camp realized that Indians would not have called to him but, more likely, would have killed him. An armed group quickly formed to find whoever was lurking outside their camp.

In the gathering darkness, they came upon the half-dead, 24-year-old Henry Crist, barely conscious and gravely wounded and brought him back to camp.

Henry survived, making a long slow recovery over the next year. He went on to live a long and productive life in the frontier territory that became the state of Kentucky, serving in the state legislature and even a term as a representative in the US Congress in Washington, D.C.

Henry Crist, one of those ancestors who crossed the Atlantic to America to seek a better life, who survived hardships we can only imagine and who helped build that better life for those of us who came after him.

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