By John Rice
Kathryn Atwood and her husband, John, have a heart for veterans. The pair formed The History Singers in 2003 to entertain veterans with WWII-era songs. They traveled the country with the Pillars of Honor program. This involved displaying an 800-pound replica of the World War II Monument for veterans who were no longer physically able to take Honor Flights to Washington DC. At these presentations, John and Kathy performed vintage songs that caused vets to cry while they sang along.
I was fortunate to catch the History Singers performing at Centuries & Sleuths this summer. They sang morale-boosting songs like "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." They also sang "separation songs" such as "I'll Be Seeing You," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "Lili Marlene." The latter was popularized by one of Kathy's heroes, Marlene Dietrich and it touched the hearts of soldiers everywhere.
Besides singing at the bookstore, Kathy promoted the second edition of her book, Women Heroes of World War II. The first edition featured profiles of 26 female heroes. It has sold 25,000 hardcover copies since its release in 2011. Now the second edition has been published, with the addition of six more profiles.
Kathy's literary career came about when she was teaching piano to a young girl. She fell into conversation with the girl's mother, Lisa Reardon, the acquisitions editor for Chicago Review Press, who was launching a new series called "Women of Action." Kathy wrote four books for the series and edited a fifth book about the French Resistance, Code Name Pauline.
Celebrating these brave women is one way Kathy honors vets. Her desire to support vets, though, came from her father Garrett. A cocky teenager, he enlisted in the Air Force and served as a tail gunner in the skies over Europe. Garrett's three brothers also enlisted. These men were Kathy's personal war heroes. Meanwhile, John's dad, Darryl, fought in the Pacific. He is now 97 and living comfortably in a veterans home in Wisconsin. Having family members who fought in World War II made it Kathy's area of interest.
Besides profiling Dietrich in her book, Kathy wrote about Josephine Baker, an African-American who became a star in France. Both performers used their stature to support the Allied cause. However, most of the people she profiles were everyday women performing extraordinary acts of courage. Sophie Scholl, for example, was a 21-year-old medical student in Germany who helped distribute leaflets to university students urging them to oppose the Nazis. She was executed and Kathy's account of her story still makes her cry.
That's because Women Heroes of World War II reads more like a novel than a history book. Though it is factual, Kathy fleshes out the characters and adds suspense. The accounts in the book are so gripping, I read it in one weekend. It's also well organized and easy to follow. She wrote to inspire young people to study history.
The six new profiles include a Russian partisan, and a pilot in the Red Army. She also profiled Hazel Ying Lee, a Chinese-American pilot, who delivered planes to American airbases. Kathy has received options for her book to be produced as a film, or TV series but these projects have yet to be greenlighted.
In the meantime, she and John will be busy this Veterans Day. They will be performing at the Oak Park Arms during the day, and Kathy is doing a book signing in the evening at a local library. Spreading the word about war heroes remains their mission.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com