June 27, 2013
NC WW II Veteran’s Family Receives His
Bible, Missing Nearly 70 Years In Europe
Wilmington, NC (AP) - Linda and David Lashley held a tattered copy of the New Testament open to the dedication page, carefully sheltering it from the rain.
Their father, Howard Clifton Lashley, had received the holy book in 1943 at Camp Blanding, Fla., before going off to fight in World War II. He carried it onto Omaha Beach two months after D-Day. It was with him through the Battle of the Bulge, and he probably had it with him when he was wounded in Belgium.
Now, 70 years later, his two children were standing by his grave in Greenlawn Cemetery, holding the little book they’d received two days earlier so the StarNews could photograph it.
The book had been mailed to them by Ward Dossche of Belgium, who had been trying since 1977 to return it.
The story of that Bible’s seven-decade journey is one of courage and sadness, determination and love.
Clifton Lashley was born in 1924 in an eastern North Carolina town so small it doesn’t exist anymore. He moved to Wilmington, where he worked with his brother and his father for the Atlantic Coast Line railroad.
He was drafted in 1943 and was sent to Camp Blanding, where he was given a pocket-sized copy of the New Testament with a note of gratitude from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Lashley landed on Omaha Beach in August 1944 and fought across France and Belgium.
On Jan. 5, 1945, he was standing behind a Sherman tank in Manhay, Belgium, when a German tank fired at the Sherman. The shell missed the turret and landed about 10 feet from him, he said in a letter to his family.
He called it the ``Lord’s blessing’’ that he could tell about it.
He described the wound as ``a scratch on the right leg,’’ but it kept him in a hospital in Liege, Belgium, for two weeks, and it hurt for the rest of his life.
Clfton Lashley, (c) Linda Lashley
After leaving the hospital, Lashley spent a month living with civilians in Belgium as his unit was being rested.
Maybe he lost the Bible when he was wounded or at the hospital, his children speculate. Or maybe he left it with that kind family who sheltered a stranger from overseas.
In any case, Lashley returned to the States without it. He went back to his job at the railroad.
Years later, his children remember him rubbing his leg at night. It was scarred and still had shrapnel.
He wouldn’t talk about the war. He’d leave the room when the 1960s TV show ``Combat’’ aired.
``He seemed to think he didn’t need the Hollywood version,’’ David said.
On April 7, 1976, Linda and her mother, Cozette Reid Lashley, were in a store in Longleaf Mall when Clifton Lashley came by. Something seemed a little off. Linda worried about her father as he left the store.
``Something told me to look at him, that I’d never see him again,’’ she said.
Driving home, he suffered a heart attack and hit a utility pole on Carolina Beach Road.
It was a year later that Lashley’s long-lost New Testament came into Ward Dossche’s possession.
Dossche, now 62, has a deep respect for veterans. He is the son of a World War II veteran and grandson of two World War I veterans.
Those wars are an ever-present memory in Belgium.
``The USA are lucky that they’ve never been invaded the way that my country has,’’ Dossche said in an email.
Belgium has been crossed by armies since the time of the Romans, Dossche said. In many regions, a traveler will nearly always be in sight of a war cemetery.
In Mortsel, where he lives, a U.S. plane was on a high-altitude bombing mission during World War II. The bombs missed the intended target, an airplane repair facility, and landed in the center of town. The blasts destroyed three schools and killed around 950 people, about half of them children.
``Later, for years there were no marriages because the ones with the right age were not there,’’ he wrote.
But no one blamed the Americans. ``It was a tragic accident, a case of friendly fire,’’ he said.
His great-uncle went missing in action during World War I. Dossche believes he is close to finding the grave.
He remembers his great-grandmother’s anguish. He discovered a letter she’d written ``with a cry for information, anything that she could hold in her hand as a memento of her son,’’ he wrote. ``After that war she was left with nothing.’’
Dossche’s cousin collected old books, and he bought the American serviceman’s Bible at an auction in the 1960s. When the cousin died in 1977, Dossche inherited it.
The dedication page listed the book as the property of one Pvt. H.C. Lashley. It had his service number and the Wilmington address of his mother, the next of kin. By the 1970s, she no longer lived there.
Mindful of his great-grandmother’s wish for ``anything that she could hold in her hand,’’ he resolved to return the Bible.
That was 36 years ago.
Dossche, now retired as a manager of the Belgian telephone company Belgacom, wrote to embassies and to the Pentagon and even to President Jimmy Carter.
He brought the Bible to America in 2007 when he drove from Washington, D.C., to Key West, Fla., with his daughter. They stopped in Wilmington and tried to find someone who knew Lashley, but they had no success.
Several times a year he visits a grave at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial on behalf of an American woman of his acquaintance whose father rests there.
On a recent visit, he told the cemetery superintendent, Bobby Bell, about Lashley’s Bible.
Bell found an entry about Lashley’s grave in Greenlawn at FindaGrave.com, thanks to the work Tom Reece of Wilmington and his brother are doing cataloging the graves of U.S. service members.
Bell put Dossche in touch with Reece, who tracked down Linda and David Lashley.
Like Ward Dossche, Linda is in the telephone business, working at AT&T. David is in manufacturing.
David was 20 and Linda 25 when they lost their father. They have a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings and photos he took during the war.
The palm-sized New Testament arrived via registered mail from Belgium on June 4. Linda picked it up from the post office.
``When I had claimed it, I went over to Daddy’s gravesite and told him, with a big lump in my throat,’’ she said.
During the photo session, the brother and sister examined the little book. They said it helped to have a tangible reminder of their father.
``He carried this all through the war,’’ Linda marveled, turning it over.
Across the sea, Ward Dossche was glad to see a picture of Linda and David’s hands holding the book open.
``It is good to see this final photo of a friend who finally found the home where he belongs,’’ Dossche said of the Bible he worked so hard to return. ``It fills me with pride having been able to do this, and a bit with sadness as I won’t see it lying around anymore.’’
Information from: The StarNews, http://starnewsonline.com
Greensboro Science Center
Works 24/7 To Save Little Duke
By SUSAN LADD
News & Record
Greensboro, NC (AP) As soon as she sees zookeeper Rachael Campbell coming down the path with a bundle on her chest, Isabella starts swinging from rope to rope, making her way to the glass exhibit window.
When she gets there, Campbell holds the tiny baby gibbon in a sitting position, facing Isabella through the window. Immediately, she and Duke reach for each other, and Isabella flicks out her tongue in an instinctive motion to lick and groom her baby. Duke makes a soft hooting coo, and their eyes follow each others’ every movement.
It’s wonderful and sad at the same time. Sad, because keepers at the Greensboro Science Center can’t yet give Isabella her son. Wonderful, because she is showing every indication of being eager to get him back when the time comes.
``When we take him to the fence, she can reach out and touch him,’’ senior keeper Amanda Bissert says. ``She tries to lick and groom him through the fence. So that’s really great.’’
Isabella also pokes her finger through the fence to check his ears and feel his teeth.
By August or September, the staff probably will try reintroducing Duke to his parents. Until then, they are continuing the job of raising the highly endangered Javan gibbon—which means holding him 24/7—with the help of volunteers from Women’s Hospital.
``It’s getting better, but it’s still extremely exhausting,’’ says Campbell, who spent the previous night with Duke.
Campbell, Bissert and zoo curator Jessica Hoffman take turns spending the night with Duke. They sleep (as much as they can) sitting up, with Duke clinging to the fur vest on their chests, which mimics how he would be clinging to his mother.
During the day, volunteers from Cone hold and feed Duke in shifts. Hoffman, Bissert and Campbell still do all the diaper changes.
Like many babies, he’s developed a little diaper rash. But otherwise, he’s doing great. Silvery gray fur is coming in all over his body, and his weight has increased from 408 grams at birth to 612 grams, roughly 11/2 pounds.
He’s awake and alert more of the time, looking around at his surroundings and discovering the world.
``I put his feet in the grass yesterday, and he was like, `Wow,’’’ Campbell says.
Hoffman had him the first time Duke discovered his feet. ``He was grabbing them, holding them up,’’ she says, laughing. ``Another night, I was making him do pull-ups, and he started twisting his hips like crazy.’’
The three keepers, bonded by the experience, say they’re becoming like old married people. Sometimes they’re so tired, they just get punchy. When Duke gets fussy and eats less on the nights Hoffman keeps him, Bissert and Campbell tease her that she ``broke the baby.’’
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Duke recognizes and reaches out for all of his three keepers, who have cared for him since birth. After a long night of broken sleep, Hoffman says, she’s ready to hand him off to one of the other keepers. By day two, she starts to really appreciate his cuteness again.
``By day three, you really start to miss him,’’ Hoffman says.
It was Bissert who found Duke, cold and seemingly lifeless, in the gibbon habitat on the morning of April 29. Isabella had abandoned him, which is common with first-time gibbon mothers.
The zoo staff revived and stabilized Duke, but an attempt to reunite him with his mother failed because she was not producing enough milk. So, they took on the daunting task of hand-raising the baby gibbon until he is strong enough to be reunited with his mother.
In addition to sleeping sitting up, the keepers do jumping jacks with Duke clinging to their chests to develop his gripping strength, crucial to the tree-dwelling gibbons. He clings to their thumbs for pull-ups, and they encourage him to climb on the vest.
He’s going through a lot of the same stages as a human infant but much faster, Bissert says.
He’s going four hours between feedings now and staying awake for most of the day. They’ve already started giving him small bits of banana to eat, which he really likes. He spends more time outside.
Though visitors won’t be able to see Duke in the gibbon habitat for a while yet, they are welcome to peek through the glass of the Animal Discovery hospital. If he’s there with a keeper or volunteer, they usually stand up so people can get a better view.
Look for the picture window decorated with blue ``It’s A Boy!’’ decorations.
``Isn’t he just adorable?’’ says Phyllis Mitchell, a Women’s Hospital volunteer who arrives for a two-hour morning shift Wednesday. ``Everybody’s gotten so attached to him. People are almost fighting over the times to come.’’
Cone Health is donating virtually all the baby supplies for Duke, and the volunteers also brought diaper bags and a pack-and-play. One nurse brought in a pacifier with a monkey on the side facing the nipple. The volunteer staff has planned an entire summer of fundraisers, including buttons that say, ``Friends of Duke.’’
Mitchell, who last saw him two weeks ago, can’t believe how much more alert he is.
``You’ve come a long way,’’ she says, looking down on the fuzzy gray head as she feeds him a bottle of formula.
Most of the volunteers are older empty-nesters like her, Mitchell says. But the moment they hold Duke in their arms, everything they remember from raising their own kids comes flooding back.
``It’s amazing,’’ Mitchell says. ``You just step right back into it.’’
For her, the best part is the tranquility she feels when it’s just the two of them, silently looking into each other’s eyes. Duke has big, dark eyes that would put a puppy to shame.
``It’s so rewarding,’’ Mitchell says. ``He’s certainly won the hearts of all of us at Women’s (Hospital).’’