Archive for Thursday, July 21, 2005

London native sees similarities in two attacks

Present-day bombings evoke World War II memories

July 21, 2005

This enemy had a face.

London, 1939: The crowded city streets are filled with pyres of rubble. Burnt orange fire and rusted gray smoke plumes accent the night's sky. Hundreds upon hundreds of people, including women and children, lie dead in collapsed buildings. Their bodies won't be recovered, and the stone tombs become their final resting place.

Adolf Hitler's war machines, emblazoned with the broken cross of Nazi Germany, came often and left little doubt as to who was responsible.

London, 2005: The streets are again ripe with fear. A series of four bombs, detonated during an early morning commute, collects 57 casualties and injures 700.

This enemy has a name -- terror -- but no face.

Time transplanted itself back to the days of the blitzkrieg on Thursday, July 7, for Yvonne Goodwin, a 78-year-old local woman and London native. A chilling telephone call from a friend back home shook her awake that morning.

"She said, 'Have you seen what they've done to London,'" Goodwin said. "I was shocked. My heart is in London. ... It kind of reminded me of the war days."

Goodwin, a Basehor resident with close ties to Bonner Springs, is a cheery woman possessed by a youthful exuberance and dry wit. She has lived in the United States for the last 58 years and became an American citizen after marrying an Air Force captain.

She has grown to love the stars and stripes. However, these days her thoughts and prayers rest with queen and country, as Londoners cope with the aftermath of what many hail as the worst attack on British soil since World War II.

"It's similar, but it's so different," she said. "Our hearts seemed to be in it. Our spirit was there. ... We knew who we were fighting and what we needed to do. Now, it's not country against country, army against army. ... We're a people against thugs.

"They're attacking only innocent people."

'Living on top of it'

Goodwin was 13 years old when the battle of Britain began. Her central school, the American equivalent to middle school, was among the buildings destroyed by Nazi bombers and soon Goodwin was evacuated to the English countryside.

Sent away from the city to safer grounds, along with thousands of others, she was fitted for a gas mask. It would prove a horrifying reminder of how much life was about to change for Goodwin and her countrymen.

"Everyone was fitted for a gas mask," she said. "We all thought we were going to be gassed right away."

A year later, relentless bombings began. Goodwin took work in a department store and on her way to work each morning witnessed firsthand the devastation that German planes had caused the night before.

"You would see all the sites of what had been bombed," she said. "It would look like the bombings you've just seen in London."

At 17 years old, Goodwin, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dance, began performing on stage in British theaters. Weary from months of air raids, the theater provided an outlet for both performers and everyday citizens.

"The theaters never closed," Goodwin said. "I loved to dance, and it was sort of an escape. You'd hear bombs and sirens and we just went on. We were not 100 percent afraid."

At night, after the shows ended, Goodwin and others would glance up at the night's sky and witness the firefights between warring planes. Goodwin said she and others tried to maintain hope during the raids. The attitude wasn't always contagious.

Her parents' home was one of many that was bombed.

"Not everyone was brave," she said. "My mother was a basket case. She almost went nuts. A lot of people did. Somehow we just tried to live on top of it."

'We rallied around it'

Goodwin's stage career eventually landed her on New York's Broadway. She performed in a musical, "Under the Counter," a war-time comedy that was a number one hit in London and which ran for six weeks in the United States.

After the last curtain call, Goodwin visited her beau in Kansas, Air Force Capt. Dale Smith, who flew B-17 Flying Fortresses in the war. Following a brief courtship, they married and Goodwin has been a U.S. resident ever since. She moved to Basehor three years ago to be near her family, who live in Bonner Springs and Lawrence.

Today, she stays busy visiting friends at the Bonner Springs Senior Center and her neighbors at the Pebblebrooke senior living community in Basehor. She said she's lucky to have escaped World War II unscathed, but memories of that violent time are burned into her mind.

Some things you just can't forget, she said.

She recalls enemy planes crashing down into the English countryside, trains hanging off tracks and innocent civilians, scared from the German attacks, taking refuge inside safety shelters that were later targeted and destroyed by the enemy.

Back then, the English people tried to take a stand against the attacks. The Germans bombs couldn't curb the English stoic spirit, Goodwin said. She hopes her home country is now possessed by a similar "cup of tea" attitude.

"We rallied around it," she said. "We had an upper lip, a let's put on the kettle sort of upper lip."

Goodwin, who has returned to London many times, said she doesn't plan to go back. She has a few friends still there, but no immediate family. She maintains a connection with home through a network of English friends that live in Overland Park.

But, while she's firmly entrenched here in the states, Goodwin can't help but cast a worried eye toward her native country. To Goodwin, the violence of the present is just as troubling and pointless as the past.

"It's not an easy battle to me," she said. "You don't know where (the terrorists) are going to be. At least we knew what we were fighting. You don't know what's going to happen now or who's going to be next.

"What will end it? They're going after innocent people. What do they think that's going to do?"

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