A Widow’s Tale: Real Lives and the Tragedy of Terrorism

images Newsrooms and news reporters too frequently convey the tragic news of those that die in acts of terror, but they have never really told the whole story. Left grossly unstated after the heartbreaking deaths of thousands of Americans have been the stories of those that live on as the survivors, struggling in the face of psychological scars – clutching their next of kin, and finding the will to live on in spite of heavy grief. This is perhaps the more significant story in any terrorist act – with no intention of implying that the person who has been cheated of life is trivial. But the courage of any one these individuals, in whatever manner they have managed to muster the internal fortitude to conquer the aftermath of terrorism, is a story perhaps best stated in a good novel. However, living in every corner of the world, they trudge through life – for the most part unnoticed and unrecognized. Survivors of those that have perished in Beirut, Lockerbie, Domodedovo, or Madrid – their stories are often epic when told, and worthy of note. With this article, we shed light on one such person – a widow whose story literally stretches across continents, numerous years and a variety of cultures.

Born and raised in the friendly and often frigid State of Michigan, June Spitler traces her roots back to the small town of Tecumseh, located just across the state line from Ohio and named after the famous leader of the Shawnee. Born in the Roaring Twenties, she is a member of perhaps the noblest and bravest generation in the history of the United States – weathering the hardships of the Great Depression, waging and winning a world war, and providing the leadership that ushered in the prosperity so many Americans take for granted at this time. June grew up in the midst of blizzards, lush fields of Michigan sweet corn, and frequent visits to her cousins in nearby Macon. A bright student, she progressed through school without trouble, graduating in Butler, Pennsylvania because the depression had briefly drawn her father there for work. However, she soon returned to her hometown and resumed her companionship with her best friend, Jane Clark – whose father had recently passed away due to heart problems. In her quest to find a husband, June did not have to look very far, since she married her best friend’s brother, Jim Clark, in the very tranquil year of 1940. As was typical for Tecumseh, Michigan, her newfound husband eventually took employment with Tecumseh Products, a manufacturing plant known worldwide as the producer of the first hermetically sealed compressor for refrigerators, as well as the world’s first window air conditioner. Returning home from church on December 7, 1941, the young couple turned on the radio to hear the shocking news that would change their lives forever and send the young housewife on a lifelong journey she had never imagined – the Japanese Empire had just bombed the U. S. Pacific Fleet as it lay anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Young Couple

Like many young men of his generation, Jim Clark entered the military the very next day – enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps and eventually receiving his wings at a ceremony in Altus, Oklahoma. Throughout his training, June followed her husband – fulfilling the role of “Rosie the Riveter,” looking after their 2 young sons, growing a Victory Garden, and performing the duties of a military wife. June stood with mixed emotions as she watched her young husband receive his pilot’s wings – pride at his accomplishment and dread of the possible implications it could mean for his life. Her deepest fears were realized during the last year of the conflict, when – along with other pilots of the Army Air Corps – he received orders for duty that would almost ensure his death. With the surrender of Germany, the Roosevelt Administration turned its full attention to plans that had already been on the planning board for quite some time. Codenamed “Operation Downfall,” the ultimate assault in the Pacific called for a massive and complicated invasion of the Japanese homeland, involving hundreds of Army Air Corps pilots that would come in low over the ocean, evading Japanese radar and flying straight into the jaws of entrenched anti-aircraft fire – with intentions of bombing and strafing communication centers, factories, railroads and other locations vital to the defense of the country. The final leg of his training for this air assault on Japan brought Jim Clark to Austin, Texas, where June remembers long Sunday afternoon drives – through winding country roads – to the Stagecoach Inn in Salado, Texas. An eerie pale of dread and impending death hung over these Sunday trips, June remembers years later, “because we both knew Jim was going to die.” However, the sudden announcement of the dropping of 2 atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan provided a reprieve for Jim Clark and thousands of other American men who would have most certainly died in a full scale invasion. In the mind of June Clark, it was one of several times that God spared the life of her husband.

Osaka san

Osaka san With June’s Oldest Children – Circa 1947 (Click for Larger Photo)

As fate would have it, Jim Clark became one of the initial military personnel to “occupy” the island nation of Japan following the official surrender that occurred on September 2, 1945. With her 2 young sons in tow, June boarded a tossing and turning naval transport in 1946 and rushed to be at her husband’s side, personally witnessing the aftermath of the atomic blast over Hiroshima. During the following years, she grew to deeply appreciate the Japanese people and their culture, a fact that would be evident in her artwork decades later. To this day, June still carries a wallet-sized photo of the family maid and nanny, Osaka san, with whom she developed a deep and unforgettable friendship. When her husband chose to make a career of military service, June soon found herself bound from one military base to another – and along the way, she gave birth to 6 more children. This vagabond military life led to stops at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, the Pacific island of Guam, Westover Air Force Base in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Torrejón Strategic Air Command Base located on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. At each step of the journey, June proudly watched her husband assume greater responsibility and higher rank. Throughout the years following their departure from Japan, Jim Clark piloted the C-47, a heavily used and highly reliable transport cargo plane – also affectionately known in the military as the “Gooney Bird.” While flying a mission from Spokane, Washington to Alaska, he once again experienced a life-threatening event when weather related engine trouble forced him to land his airplane on a frozen Canadian lake. Throughout the remaining 1940s and 1950s, June balanced the role of officer’s wife and mother as the Cold War grew increasingly more intense and nuclear warfare always seemed imminent.

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You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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The Peter C. Alderman Foundation: “Because Peter Lived, the World is a Better Place”

photoOn September 11, 2001, Stephen and Elizabeth Alderman of Westchester County, New York were in the midst of touring southern France, enjoying a 2 week vacation intended to honor Stephen’s 60th birthday. While visiting the medieval French village of Rousillon, an upset and crying cashier in a gift shop informed the unaware couple that the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been attacked – which prompted frantic phone calls on their part to ascertain the whereabouts of their children, who were already in contact with each other as the tragic events transpired that morning. Their daughter Jane Alderman, mindful that her youngest brother Peter frequented the location of the World Trade Center, had emailed him and warned him not to go downtown. Attending a conference above the impact site of American Airlines Flight 11, Peter was already in danger at the Windows on the World Restaurant and informed his sister to that effect with the words “I am there.” At exactly 9:40am, Peter’s last email arrived in Jane’s inbox, ominously stating that he was stuck in a smoke-filled room and in absolute terror for his life. Just before 10:30am, the North Tower collapsed, killing Peter Alderman – who at the age of 25 was the youngest of the Alderman children.

Aldermans

Stephen and Elizabeth Alderman
Photo credit: Encore Careers / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

As with all families who have suffered the violence of terrorism, the Alderman family struggled to cope with the mental and emotional crisis that came as a consequence of Peter’s death.You either kill yourself – crawl into bed and never get out – or you put one foot in front of the other,” says Elizabeth Alderman. But the Aldermans have done substantially more than just place one foot in front of the other, converting the depths of their sorrow into the formation of “a foundation to help children overcome the emotional wounds of terrorism and mass violence.” Initiated in 2003, the goal of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation is to “foster homegrown mental health systems around the world in partnership with indigenous academic, government, and religious institutions.” The driving force behind their determination is the catharsis that can occur when positive efforts occur in the midst of grief, sorrow, and tragedy – bringing light in the midst of darkness. Because Peter lived, the world is a better place,” the Aldermans state emphatically when questioned about their motivation and reasons for creating the international organization that bears the name of their martyred son.

The idea for their award-winning mission required a gut-wrenching spiritual sojourn on their part to convert the anger and devastation they naturally felt in the wake of 911 into benevolence and humanitarianism. Trapped in a downward spiral of merciless grief, depression and insomnia, the Alderman’s serendipitously discovered the answer to their personal trauma while watching a segment of the ABC news program Nightline, which chronicled the mental torment of refugees fleeing from unrelenting war and terrorism around the world. Learning that 1/6 of the planet’s population lives in severe emotional trauma due to the aftermath of violence, the Aldermans used the $1.4 million they received from the 911 Victims’ Compensation Fund to seed the initial phases of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, which was but one of about 300 foundations to spring up in the wake of the 911 attacks.

As featured in the video that can be viewed below, the foundation initially began its work in Cambodia, a country heavily afflicted with psychological trauma, due to years of mass genocide that occurred there under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 until 1979. The

Aldermans have included Buddhists monks as part of the foundation’s therapy in that country, owed to the Cambodian belief that depression and anxiety are a result of the displeasure and abandonment of the gods. Now counting the services of over 600 treatment personnel, the Peter C. Alderman Foundation has reached into 22 countries, including Uganda, Rwanda and Haiti – countries that have suffered disastrous civil war, genocide and unrelenting violence. In but a few short years, the Aldermans’ work has been the recipient of esteemed awards, such as the 2009 Purpose Prize, which awards $100,000 to five people over the age of 60 who have adapted new and creative ways to solve tough social problems. Undoubtedly, the highest honor bestowed on the Aldermans has been the October 20, 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal, granted to 13 Americans by President Barack Obama in recognition of their efforts to “set examples of helping one’s neighbors in keeping with American tradition.”

Peter Alderman

Peter Alderman

The Aldermans have incisively realized that the surest therapy for families that have suffered the emotional pain of terrorism is a personal, diametrical dedication to the pursuit of world peace and hope. Simultaneously, it is also the most significant way to honor those that have died in acts of terror, because – as the Aldermans have discovered – it is the only way to find positive meaning in the senseless and violent tragedy of their death. This realization is also crucial to the future of the human race, since terrorism seems to be reaching for more destructive means as time moves forward – and could very likely embrace nuclear destruction one day. Likewise, this realization of hope in the midst of tragedy is connected very strongly to the creation of a national monument that honors victims such as Peter Alderman. Such a national emblem would not only tribute those that have perished as innocent victims, but it would also stand as an inspiration to the world for much-needed tolerance, peace and global brotherhood. Please show your personal understanding of this need by clicking on the link below and signing the petition.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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