November 28, 2012

Brookwood Grad Amanda Weir Becomes an Olympian

Last night was the Brookwood Cross Country team’s Awards Banquet.  We attended for my son in his first year on the team.  After the first two hours of awards were given out, my mind started wandering.  I noticed up high on the trophy wall a plaque showing the Swim Teams records for both the women’s and the men’s teams.  To my astonishment, I saw Amanda Weir’s name boldly still on there in 4 places!  Memories of the recent London Olympics started playing out in my mind as it wandered further from the clapping and cheering going on around me.  

What impressed me is that a local girl at the high school my son was currently attending had medaled at the Olympics.  I looked around the room and wondered if any of these kids, doing so well in their sport of Cross Country, would ever grace the track at one of the upcoming Olympic Games.  

Amanda Weir was born in Iowa but started swimming after her family moved to Minnesota.  Taller than most of the other girls, she immediately showed proficiency in swimming.  (Remember that Michael Phelps, another Olympian, is extremely tall.  Height seems to be a real advantage for swimmers.)  She set her first record at age 12 and still dominates the USA Swimming league record books in the various age groups.  At Brookwood and over 6 feet tall, she dominated freestyle and butterfly, setting school records.  In all of her freestyle events she set Gwinnett County records, and in one, she even set a State record that still stands.  She led the Brookwood team to win the State Championships each year of her High school career from 2000-2004.  

After graduation, she competed in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, winning two Silver medals as part of two different relay teams.  She hurried home to start college and it was over quickly.  She narrowly missed qualifying for the 2008 games.  Working hard, she won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the US 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay team.  She said, “Relays are so fun. "You're going to go fast because you have to. You're swimming for your teammates and your country. I don't get as nervous for relays. You've got a job and you don't have a choice. There's not a question if you're going to go fast or not. You have to."

This local woman, who as a teenager walked the halls of our Brookwood High, now holds 3 Olympic medals.  It can happen to anyone with talent who is willing to work hard and follow his or her coaches advice.  What is stopping any of us ordinary people from becoming Olympic-quality athletes or millionaire-quality businessmen?  Nothing but talent and a lot of hard work! 

Hammock, Will.  “Brookwood’s Weir has high hopes for second Olympics.”  Gwinnett Daily Post.  July 27, 2012.  n. pag. Web.  Nov. 28, 2012.

 “Amanda Weir.”  Wikipedia.  Nov. 15, 2012, retrieved Nov. 28, 2012.

November 19, 2012

Emmanuel Used His Disability to Break Barriers and Help Disabled Ghanians

I watched an amazing documentary called ‘Emmanuel’s Gift.’  It tells the story of a young man who made a huge difference first in his community, then in his country.  I wanted to share his story because he shows us all that we can contribute no matter what condition we are in.

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana to a young couple.  Unfortunately, he was not born perfect—one of his legs was shriveled up and bent.  Here in America, doctors would attempt to correct the disability, and if that wasn’t possible, they’d come up with a prosthetic leg or other way of getting around it.  But in Ghana, a disability like this was usually a death sentence.  Emmanuel’s mother was advised to poison him or leave him in the woods to die.  But she would not consider it.  Instead she took Emmanuel to doctors to see what they could do.  When they told her his condition was permanent and that there was no hope for improvement at all, she vowed to teach him to be independent anyway.  Hearing this news, Emmanuel’s father left the family and married someone else.

In Ghana, about 10% of the population is disabled.  Strangely, there is a stigma about disabled people.  Many believe they are disabled because someone did something bad.  I guess it’s like the biblical question asked of Jesus, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents:  but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”  So that must be a really old idea.  Because of this stigma, people won’t hire disabled people.  They are reduced to begging on the street.  It makes for a hard life for the beggars and upsetting for people to see such beggars all over the city.

Emmanuel’s mother didn’t want her son to beg.  So she taught him that he could do anything.  She gave him chores and sent him to play with the other kids.  Emmanuel learned how to play soccer with crutches.  And he’s good at it!  He also could climb coconut trees as well as his two legged friends.  His mother sent him to school, another unusual thing.  Normally disabled kids are kept at home since they will not learn a trade but will be sent begging when they are older.  Emmanuel still struggled to fit in, seeing that most people assumed that he was a beggar because of his disability.  Sometimes the kids wouldn’t play with him or they told him he was too stupid to learn.  

Fortunately for Emmanuel, his mother believed in him.  That helped him to believe in himself.  That belief changed his life from one of begging to empowering others.  And he impacted thousands of others for good.

Emmanuel had been shining shoes before school to bring in money for his family.  When he finished school, he decided to move to Accra, the big city, to shine shoes.  He figured that there would be more customers there and maybe he could double his earnings to $2 a day.  He was stunned to see so many disabled people on the streets begging.  Many scooted around on skateboards or crawled.  He learned that he could earn 10 times what he had in his village by begging.  That must have been tempting, but he wasn’t raised to be a beggar.  He instead shined shoes as he had planned and sent the extra money home to his family.  

Bothered by the many beggars, and sometimes being confused with beggars asking for a handout, he decided that the best thing he could do to help Ghana was to convince people that disabled people could support themselves with honest labor and not beg.  That was a huge change in thinking and required bold action.  

Fortunately, Emmanuel had a bold plan.  He heard of a charity in America called ‘Challenged Athletes Foundation’ (CAF) that helped disabled people around the world.  He wrote to them and asked for a bicycle so he could ride across Ghana and show people that disabled people can do normal things.  With only one leg, it would be bold enough to capture the imaginations of the people.  

The charity was stunned to hear that this disabled Ghanian wasn’t asking for a handout for himself.  They were so impressed that his request was really for the benefit of others that they sent him a bicycle, a helmet and several sets of biking clothes.  Emmanuel was ecstatic!  He began learning to ride a bike with only one leg, and training for his trip across Ghana.  He completed his 300 mile ride across Ghana and got a lot of attention for this amazing feat.  He was changing attitudes!

The CAF was so impressed that they flew him to America to compete in a Triathlon in San Diego.  Emmanuel completed the event, gaining more attention and bringing more people in to his cause.  One of the CAF founders wondered if Emmanuel could get some medical help while he was there.  Doctors looked at his bad leg and determined that Emmanuel was an excellent candidate for a prosthetic leg.  With some reluctance and worry, Emmanuel agreed to have his leg amputated so that a prosthesis could be fitted to the upper thigh stump.  He contacted his family back in Ghana and had them pray for him.  

This successful surgery truly changed his life.  He remained in San Diego for 4 months to heal.  Within a few weeks of his surgery, Emmanuel completed the same Triathlon and shaved 3 hours off of his original time!  Going home a hero, Emmanuel used some of the money to give wheelchairs to the disabled.  He is now building handicapped friendly sports centers and schools.  That’s an amazing amount of money, when one considers that Emmanuel made $2 a day shining shoes.  Emmanuel married and is raising 3 children with his wife in his hometown.  

Emmanuel is realizing his dream of changing attitudes and perceptions about the disabled in Ghana.  He was raised believing he could do anything in spite of his disability.  Now he is helping others by teaching them what his mother taught.  It truly is amazing what we can do when we trust in God and believe in ourselves.  

I consider what Emmanuel would have become if he had been with two normal legs.  He would have been an average man living in poverty in Ghana.  Because of his disability and his belief in himself and God, he became an exceptional man as he overcame his disability and helped others do the same.  Sometimes our trials are actually wonderful gifts to prod us on to excellence. 

November 13, 2012

August Bauschke and His Brother John Fought Together

In honor of our Veterans, I want to share another story from my ancestors.  This young immigrant fought under Custer!

August Bauschke (Boss-key) came to America from Germany with his family when he was 12 years old in 1857.    They came into New York Harbor, where they would have come through Ellis Island as they began their new life in America.  His parents had a large family of mostly boys.  His dad was a blacksmith by trade, but farmed in their new hometown Benton Harbor, Michigan until he could set up a blacksmith shop.  

As the Civil war developed, August and his older brother John wanted to enlist.  The 7th regiment of the Michigan Cavalry was organized in Grand Rapids, Michigan in October of 1862.  John age 20 and August age 18 volunteered!  They were probably good with horses because of their dad’s work shoeing horses.  With their Regiment, they rode to Washington DC where they joined the Michigan Brigade.  First they participated in some of the early skirmishes with the Gettysburg Campaign, then they were sent to help Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer in the Battle of Hanover in Pennsylvania in June 1863.  A few days later, they participated in the Battle of Hunterstown.  

At the Battle of Gettysburg, August and John were posted on their horses along the Hanover road on July 3rd.  For several days, small skirmishes broke out among dismounted soldiers, while August and John’s regiment remained mounted.  Most memorably, they charged into the center of the battlefield with Custer shouting, “Come on, you Wolverines!”  The Confederates retreated, although smaller skirmishes continued to break out.  

John and August performed patrol and scouting duty as part of their regiment through the end of 1863, engaging in skirmishes during the Bristoe Campaign and the Mine Run Campaign.

In early 1864, the Michigan Brigade launched a daring raid against the Confederate Capitol at Richmond, Virginia.  They wanted to free Union POW’s, cut off supplies, and cause serious confusion at the enemy headquarters.  They did sever the rail lines, but failed to free their comrades or enter the city of Richmond.  

Later they fought in the Battle of Haw’s Shop in May and the Battle at Trevilian Station in June.  They rode through Washington DC to the Shenandoah Valley to help a besieged Union group.  As they entered Winchester, Virginia, in August 1864, skirmishes broke out.  August was compelled to dismount and was shot in the thigh.  His injury took him out of the action completely.

In a statement describing what happened, August shared the story, which was written as follows.
In the line of his duty as a soldier near a place called Winchester in the State of Virginia during the month of August 1864 while dismounted … in action on the skirmish line he received a musket wound in the right leg the ball passing entirely through the thigh of his leg, disabling him entirely at the time and from which wound he received he has not entirely recovered… He received hospital treatment as follows.  First in Field Hospital for 3 days, Second in the General Hospital at Baltimore, Third was then sent home on a furlough.  

August’s records show that he was out of active duty convalescing over a period of 8 months before he was eventually discharged with John on 24 June 1865.  In their military records, both August and John were listed as POW’s.  I wish I could find out when they were captured and how they got back to their Regiment.  Both survived the war and went home, married and raised families.

This surgeon's report dated April 1, 1908, one of many in August's file, shows the musket wound to the thigh more than 40 years after the injury.  A 'cicatrix' is a badly healed scar that creates tough tissue. 
I don’t have much information on John, but records show that August never fully recovered from his gunshot wound to his thigh.  August’s wound became infected with gangrene, then scabbed badly with tough tissue where supple muscle should have been.  He spent the rest of his life walking with a cane or crutches and fighting for a proper pension from the government.  He ended up living at the Grand Rapids Soldiers’ Home for over a decade when he was unable to care for himself anymore.

I’m so glad that these two brothers supported each other as they served in the Cavalry.  Perhaps they were prisoners together when they had been captured.  Even more, perhaps they worked together to get away.  We should always stick close to our siblings, as they should be our best friends.  

I honor and recognize this immigrant who fought for our freedoms, coming home wounded and disabled.  He gave up his future life for our country.

Historical Data Systems.  American Civil War Regiments.  “Regimental History Michigan 7th Cavalry.”  Provo, UT. USA: Operations, 1999.
“Michigan Brigade.”  Wikipedia. 12 May 2012: n. pag. Web. 12 Nov 2012.
National Archives and Records Administration Records on August Bauschke, Pension Record #382785

November 5, 2012

A Miracle in Andersonville Prison Saved POW David Earley's Life

While I’m on the subject of miracles, and with Veterans Day coming up, I thought I’d share a miracle involving a veteran.  The young man was named David Earley and grew up in Mottville, St. Joseph, Michigan, the oldest son in a family of 6 children.

David Earley must have been anxious to fight in the Civil War.  In September 1862, when an infantry group came through nearby St. Joseph, Michigan, he lied about his age and enlisted in Company D 25th Michigan Infantry as a Private.  He said he was 19, but later admitted he was only 15 years old.   His mother tracked him down in Louisville, Kentucky a few months later and had him discharged on December 12, 1862.  Somehow she got him an honorable discharge for disability.  He was home for Christmas, but still restless.  David later testified, “I was in Co D 25th Mich Infantry.  Served in said regiment about [3] months, was discharged for disability, was only 15 years of age.  My mother got me out of the service on Disability.”  Just after his birthday in September 1863, he enlisted again, this time with Company H of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters.  In the intervening time, he had learned how to shoot!  

His regiment first served in Chicago, then joined the Army of the Potomac in Annapolis, Maryland.  David fought with his regiment at Spotsylvania, Virginia in May of 1864.  That engagement left many dead and wounded.  Soon after, David and his regiment were involved in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia that began in June 1864.  During the bloody assault on the city on June 17, 1864, David was captured by the Confederate Army.  He was marched with the other prisoners of war to Andersonville Confederate prison in Southern Georgia.  

Andersonville was little more than a large-scale open-air chicken coop.  Tall timbers enclosed an area teeming with tattered soldiers.  Guards on turrets shot at anyone going within a 20 foot fenced buffer near the wall.  David Earley, like the other prisoners, had only what he carried in with him to help him survive.  Almost 30,000 people were kept in this 26 acre compound when he arrived.  That amounts to just a few square feet per person.  It was cold in the winter and muggy hot in the summer.  They camped in make-shift tents in groupings by state.  Michigan soldiers camped on the northern rise.  Adding to the hazards, desperate roving thieves terrorized the prisoners in gangs.

The worst part of living there was the lack of food and water.  The south was low on food, there wasn’t much to offer to the prisoners.  And by the design of the prison, the only water coming into the compound flowed in from the upstream barracks and animal pens of the Confederate officers.  It was terribly polluted before even entering the camp.  The polluted water spread dysentery; a poor diet caused scurvy.  Both of these diseases affected David Earley.  Disease and malnutrition killed over 12,000 soldiers interred there, and reduced the others to skeletons.  David Earley recalled, “I contracted scurvy and diarrhea caused by poor and insufficient food, lack of shelter and poisonous water taken from its swamp.” 

The stream that flowed into camp nearly ran dry in the hot summers of Georgia.  Getting to the stream, prisoners had to wade knee-deep into the swamp surrounding it.  A bridge was built leading to the center of the stream, with ‘latrine holes’ along one side.  So many prisoners needed fresh water that the soldiers took to praying for rain.  They prayed often for rain to wash out the river and dilute the waste.  And often after prayer, it rained.  

A miracle occurred after the largest group of Christian prisoners had prayed for rain in August 1864.  Prison population now had topped 33,000, and 3000 were dying monthly from disease.  That’s roughly 100 deaths per day.  The believers vowed that they wouldn’t stop praying until the rain came.  They prayed most of the day.  Later in the day, clouds formed above the camp.  Lightning flashed and struck near the camp.  With so many people crowded together, the first miracle was that no one was struck.  The bolt struck the earth on a hill just outside the outer wall, near where the stream entered the compound.  Fresh water erupted from the hole and flowed freely into the camp under the timbers, rushing downhill until it took out the wall and washed out the polluted stream.   It cleaned out the swamp completely.  One prisoner remarked, “When the almighty cleans house he puts housekeepers to shame.”  Men crowded around the fresh water pouring in, gulping in water and praising heaven.  This spring remained active for the remainder of the war, providing a small amount of fresh water to the prisoners.  They named it ‘Providence Spring.’  It may have been what kept David Earley alive. 

Near the end of 1864, most of the prisoners were moved to a new facility at Millen, Georgia when Sherman was marching toward Savannah.  Those too weak to be moved stayed.  Conditions eased at Andersonville as the population decreased.  When David could travel, he was moved to NE Ferry near Wilmington, North Carolina, where he was paroled on February 26, 1865.  He spent the next several months in hospitals in Maryland before he was sent to a hospital in Ohio.  He weighed just 63 pounds!   At 5’ 3” tall, he would have looked like a walking skeleton.  He was discharged from service there in Camp Chase, Ohio in July of 1865, and sent home to his family in Constantine, Michigan.  

Comrade in the prison camp Samuel Plank (of Co H 13th Michigan Infantry) said, “Earley was there a mere skeleton and most dead from scurvy and diarrhea.”  After David came home, neighbor Wesley Leckner said, “He could barely walk.  He was unable to do any labor.  I didn’t think he would live.”  

But live he did.  Slowly he regained his strength, although he could never rid himself of the disease of the mouth and the chronic diarrhea.  Eating was difficult without any teeth, and what he could eat didn’t agree with him.  He was just a young man when he enlisted; he was like an old man, sick and disabled just a few years later when he was discharged.  He truly had given his healthy life and future for our freedoms.  

The miracle of Providence Spring may have saved David’s life.  It is tangible evidence that God hears and answers our prayers.  And after reading so much about how hard it was to survive in Andersonville, that David survived is a miracle too.  He even grew 4 inches taller after his discharge and recovery.  

I am grateful for David Earley and for all the other veterans.  Many of them made great sacrifices so that we could have the liberty we enjoy today.  I am proud to claim David Earley as a part of my extended family.    

I recommend a visit to the Andersonville National Historic site where one can walk where these soldiers were held captive.  There is now a marble monument at the head of Providence Spring, which still produces fresh water.  Other monuments dot the now grassy lawn where soldiers once only had a few square feet in which to live.  I walked the spot where the Michigan soldiers camped.  The visitors center honors all POW's from all wars with artifacts and a touching video with interviews of POW's.  

David Earley’s pension files #453331, marriage certificate, obituary, Soldier's Home records, etc.
Illustration courtesy of John McElroy’s memoirs of 1879.
Burnett, William G.  “The Prison Camp at Andersonville.”  National Park Service Civil War Series. Eastern National Pub, 1995. Print.
Civil War  "Civil War Timeline" 4 Nov 2012. n. pag. web.
Cree Vicar Dave.  “Providence Spring—A Miracle at Andersonville.”   Sucker Creek Saddle and Gun Club.  4 Nov 2012. n. pg. web.
Hickman, Kennedy.  American Civil War:  Andersonville Prison.  4 Nov 2012. n. pg. web.  
Pierce, Byron Root.  Civil War Regiments From Michigan, 1861-1865 "1st Michigan Sharpshooters Regiment" n. pag. web.