The Execution of Terri Schiavo

By now Terri Schiavo’s experience should have launched a national debate about how to dispose of nuisance citizens in a manner that is consistent, discreet, legal, sanitary, and (most importantly) humane.  While she is merely the latest of thousands of people in the U.S.A. who have been dispatched when their guardians have grown weary or have given up hope, she has generated enough media attention that no thinking person can be unaware of the debacle.


We need to engage in this debate without submitting to the emotion of the zealots forever commandeering media attention over, for instance, abortion, who, for years, have shouted from the same opposing ramparts and have prevented rational dialog.  Many of the same zealots have tried to hijack the Schiavo situation.  Anyone with megaphones needs to be ignored by those who want to resolve the matter.

We need to have this debate among ourselves, as Americans, and we need to leave the rest of the world out of it.  Many other countries have their own solutions.  If we were fully aware how inconvenient citizens are disposed of in other countries from Scandinavia to Southeast Asia, it would be sobering to everyone on both extremes on the Schiavo issue.  We might, however, study other countries’ solutions and find some guidance there, guidance both for how to select individuals to be dispatched and what methods are most efficient.

We need to make this a national debate not subject to states’ rights.  Rather, we need to define that which makes us citizens of the U.S.A.; clearly we understand that one is a citizen who has been born here or naturalized and who has not renounced citizenship.  We even confer citizenship posthumously.  What about citizens who are still breathing?  We need to decide when a breathing corpse, as Terri Schiavo was clearly perceived by Judge Greer, ceases to hold the rights of citizenship.

The definition of “dead” used to be a lot simpler in centuries past, but now we seem uncertain whether a “viable fetus” is alive, whether a body on “life support” is alive, and whether a person who is “brain dead” is alive.  Terri Schiavo was deemed dead enough in one respect that a court ordered her body deprived of food and water so that it would have the good sense to go with the already dead part.  We need the national debate to define “dead” once and for all.  And concomitantly it can encompass the definition of “not-yet-alive.”  We permit fetuses with beating hearts to be declared not alive yet, so maybe that could be instructive at the other end of… of a lifetime.  (Heart beating but not yet alive: heart still beating but already dead.)  We need one definition nationally, because, once again, there cannot be fifty definitions of a U.S. citizen.

We need to debate this definition outside the courts.  Courts settle disputes according to laws already on the books and decide the constitutionality of such laws.  There is nothing in a national debate for the courts to get involved in as long as there is not yet a national consensus and a national law on what “dead” means. Judge George Greer, the unwitting villain in the Terri Schiavo case, took it upon himself to declare her legally dead.  But he was grasping at a definition that did not yet exist in our laws.

We need to disregard what will surely be a shrill attempt by lawyers to lead the debate.  Again, it concerns what is not yet law, and what is already law must be set aside.  Legal precedent does not inform us here.  “Not-yet-alive” and “dead” are concepts found in our national soul, not in the Internal Revenue Code.  Lawyers should be welcome in any national debate not as experts on irrelevant law but as individuals who may or may not have personal experience that informs each one’s position.

We need to reach one accord and then tell Congress what we’ve decided.  Congress then needs to render our decision in the form of a simple, unequivocal law.  “This (insert results of debate here) is what defines life.  Anything not fitting this definition is not life.  Dispose of corpses appropriately.”  And, incidentally, that which defines not-life for humans ought also to apply to beached porpoises, comatose rhesus monkeys, laboratory rats, and the like.

Indeed, a constitutional amendment may be the proper result.  We cannot leave it to different courts with 50 separate sets of state laws to decide upon different ways to execute nuisance citizens.

This debate needs to be held by ordinary citizens and the rational organizations that represent many groups of citizens.  It is not a debate that can be resolved in Congress, because nothing decided in Congress has anything to do with finding a real solution, much less dealing with anything but contrived problems.  Congress is ever obsessed with finding a compromise, between opposing sets of values, that both sides can agree wreaks the least political damage to the two parties that control the government.  Compromise in Congress is not about agreeing on fixing something; compromise is about appearing to fix something and getting at least part of the credit.  When the fix doesn’t work, each side can say it wasn’t their fault because their entire agenda wasn’t incorporated in toto into the “solution.”

We need to have this debate because, through our collective compassion, we have preserved populations of humans in our midst who cannot be relied upon to take responsibility for themselves: pathological criminals, the seriously mentally ill, those with serious physical or mobility limitations, the seriously mentally retarded, the frail and demented elderly, and of course, those in a rapidly-deteriorating state or a persistent vegetative state, which may have arisen out of anything from birth defects to terminal deterioration to self-inflicted loss of function or consciousness.  Terri Schiavo reached her persistent vegetative state by initially depriving herself of nutrition necessary to sustain consciousness.  Others inflict permanent incapacity upon themselves by such means as over-consumption of substances that they know will destroy them, by submitting themselves to absurd risks, and by overtly attempting, and failing, to kill themselves.


In order to have a rational national debate, we need to reach a consensus on who represents some of us.  I prefer to speak for myself, but others are not confident doing so.  So I’m on my soap box and you can get onto yours.  Or you can get behind someone who thinks like you do.

There is a vanguard of citizen groups that vigorously oppose the death penalty under all circumstances.  Of all citizen movements, this one, to my observation, generates perhaps the most universal respect for its agenda.  We should consider including these people as rational participants in the debate.  There is another vanguard that advocates permitting the terminally ill the option of assisted suicide.  This too is, for the most part, a rational and compassionate group of citizens and we should let them participate.  We should let the politicians participate who have a personal perspective to contribute.  Otherwise, they are our servants and should sit it out until they are instructed to act.  Even those of us who are “members” of passionate organizations must agree to set aside our most ardent passions and tell our too-vocal organizational leaders to put a cork in it.

A debate needs moderators.  A national debate needs someone to do this who can command some media attention, some financial backing, and most importantly, the respect of a significant majority of us.  When two former Presidents appeared together to appeal for voluntary contributions from Americans for victims of the December 26, 2004 tsunami, they formed such a team.  They are not necessarily the ones to manage a national debate, but they suggest one sort of possibility.  Twenty years ago another group of influential people came together for one brief session and recorded “We Are the World.”  The effect was fleeting but pervasive.  Americans from two to 102 were singing it.  People like those who made that song are acting responsibly when they allow themselves to be persuaded to use their enormous influence in an unusual but benevolent way.

I’m merely squeaking like a cricket under the porch.  I can’t bring the media to my door to listen to this idea.  I can hope only that someone with that kind of power pauses to listen to me chirp for a moment, and understands.

A debate, though, involves a clash of opinions.  It differs greatly, too, from the din of opposing zealots.  Zealots try to shout each other down and rely not upon thoughtful argument but upon insult and rage.  In a debate, the opposing sides at least suspect that the other side has a point that could be respected.  They listen to one another.  And they submit their best arguments to a panel or a populace.  When the populace decides, the debaters accept the result.


And so, as I advocate for a national debate, I am offering opinions along the way in the hope of stimulating support or opposition, but opposition that attempts to persuade me, not destroy me.

For my own part, I certainly have an opinion.  I also have a personal perspective.  And I have an emotional response to the Terri Schiavo incident as well, so I’ll get that out and be done with it: I struggle with a court’s decision that Terri Schiavo didn’t feel her starvation and thirst.  We assume that a hanged criminal doesn’t feel the snap when his neck breaks.  But we don’t kill people that way any more.  In the judge’s opinion, she wouldn’t feel it because she was already legally dead.  Since his was a legal opinion not subject to direct knowledge of what she could feel, it is no more valid than my opinion, legally held, that any judge who could reach that conclusion wouldn’t feel it if a broomstick were rammed up his rectum and he were then mounted on a marble column on the front of his courthouse.  You had a tough case put before you, Judge Greer.  But I think a sharp-minded judge could have alerted the legislature in a different way to tell them that there are laws on the books that stink and need to be rectified.  It didn’t require a human sacrifice.  There.  Now I don’t need to say it again.

I also have a global, (in the sense of wider), more comprehensive, perspective.  But first my personal perspective: For fifteen years [as of 2005] I too have lived with someone who has survived all that time only because of a feeding tube.  (We never thought of it as “life support” though.)  He doesn’t walk or speak.  He follows a balloon with his eyes when it is passed before him.  He is diapered 24 hours a day and must be bathed and wheeled about.  We, his family, believe that he takes pleasure in things, and we can tell when he is uncomfortable, but when he hurts he can’t show us where, or when he is frightened, why.  Maybe we are deluded to think that he communicates in his own way.  Maybe his quality of life is crap too.  On paper he would appear to a judge to be a lot like Terri Schiavo.  Certainly he is a financial burden on society, on Medicaid and the medical insurance, and on his family.  Maybe it’s time to stop feeding him, too.  Who will volunteer to sit there and keep vigil while my son starves to death?

On a wider perspective, I learned a little about Dr. Albert Schweitzer when I was a youth.  His influence on me is borne in the term he coined: “reverence for life.”  To the extent that that concept affects us, we struggle to understand the killing that is necessary so that we might eat and the killing that others force us into so that we might defend ourselves.  But necessary killing does not justify unnecessary killing.  To this day, I still release spiders outside that I have caught in the house, rather than killing them.

Perhaps those same words, which describe the principle Dr. Schweitzer attempted to elucidate in his Philosophy of Civilization, published in 1923, became the basis for our culture’s turn toward greater compassion for all people.  Perhaps, though, that turn had already begun to take place and Dr. Schweitzer merely uttered what was already understood.


Thus, years before I had heard of Terri Schiavo, I had begun to contemplate the inevitable consequence of America’s scramble to assist all people, in whatever manner of decay and incapacity, to hold onto life at any cost – cost in money and cost in effort.  In the first place, assisting children with genetic mental and physical challenges to reach adulthood – children who until a hundred years ago or less would have died sooner (and still do, of course, in most of the rest of the world) – helps assure that their genetic material will be passed on.  As more and more medical solutions are made available, more and more children or their guardians assert a right to those solutions.  I participate in that process myself on behalf of my son, although I do not expect that he will pass on his weakened DNA.

With medicines and machines we already preserve the elderly, including the hopelessly demented elderly, beyond their ability to sustain themselves, and at extraordinary cost and extraordinary emotional drain.  We wage costly battles against dread diseases on a national and international scale, fighting malaria and polio, smallpox and influenza.  These largely indiscriminate, periodic, shotgun-approach campaigns affect whomever they can and leave others at times unprotected.  But we also wage costly individualized battles against such dread diseases as cancer, on the premise that every American has the right to muster whatever resources one can on the off-chance of becoming one more survivor.

When people who are predisposed to develop such a disease, and who are young and strong enough to recover, do survive, they often reproduce, increasing the odds that there will be more people genetically predisposed to the same disease in the future.  When someone is severely injured in an accident or loses significant function due to a stroke, just two more examples out of many, we don’t just let them go.  We encourage them to try electric scooters at public expense (Medicare), prostheses, and rehabilitation of indefinite duration.

We build dialysis centers and clinics to rehabilitate addicts who would otherwise die in oblivion and who are at increased likelihood to become candidates for long-term care later anyway.  We agonize over the homeless and try to steer them toward wellness and recovery at public expense, and largely public waste, considering their recidivism.

Nowadays we give no thought to the marriage of a man and a woman who each endure severe myopia (of the visual kind), people who in past centuries may have been ridiculed and tortured for their clumsiness or devoured for their blindness before the opportunity occurred to marry and reproduce.  As innocuous as it seems, this too is an example of our rush to assure the physical weakening of our population.  And so it goes with people who have chronic asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, a predisposition to addictive behavior, hemophilia, and the list is endless.  It is our national will to assure us each and every one the fighting chance we never before would have had… to weaken the gene pool.

We have declared insane asylums inhumane, even though they once helped keep our streets safer and to some extent inhibited procreation.  We have moved their populations into the communities to be integrated as much as possible with regular folks.  That’s good!  They have rights.  They aren’t dead yet either!

Nobody wants to volunteer to forego available medical treatment that will help them fight their way back from a disease or injury.  Nobody wants to abandon their physically or mentally weak children or grandparents to the life they would lead if they had to be dependent completely on their own responsibility and faculties.

We all want assistance in all of these circumstances.  Most of those who don’t have insurance have some claim to public funds for acute or critical care.  Other than the somewhat-meaningless lifetime maximums in health insurance policies, there are no limits to what someone can seek for treatment.  Seek it, schedule it, and ask for donations to help pay the bills afterward.  Declare bankruptcy if you must.  But our attitude is that we don’t have to sit home and die as our ancestors did when they knew it was serious.  And there are certainly no statutory limits to the care one may seek.

We are becoming a nation almost overrun with people who are, if not outright nuisances to the rest of us because of their dependency, at least greatly inconvenient to have around.  We must discuss whether this is the way we want to go on.  Unless we do something, the percentage of nuisance people in the population will only increase.  Are we okay with this?


Terri Schiavo’s example at least begs the debate on whether we can’t get rid of a few – perhaps quite a few – people who have no awareness, no hope of developing any awareness, and presumably have no quality of life.  (If we don’t debate it and agree, then we’ve already assented to let the judges decide quality of life for us based on “law.”)

It almost leaves moot the debate on what to do with people who are plainly and permanently unconscious.  At this point, consider the distinction between awareness and consciousness.  Terri Schiavo was conscious and had a relatively normal wake-sleep cycle.  But she was arguably not aware.  She apparently processed nothing that her senses took in.  At best, she had reflexive responses to certain stimuli.  So say certain “experts,” anyway.

Unlike her, my son, despite the superficial similarities, is aware.  He is in an aggressive school program where he has learned to communicate through a picture-exchange system.  He follows precise verbal instructions to match, separate, and otherwise manipulate objects.  He soothes himself by playing sometimes sweet, sometimes raucous “tunes” on the piano.  He points when asked to “pick the one you want.”  If he is sitting on the floor before the television and we cajole him to turn it on, he will scoot to it and press buttons until it comes on.  He has a couple of hand signs which he invented and uses to communicate.

Someone who is conscious, then, may or may not be aware.  But someone who is aware is, almost by definition, also conscious.  (I had to say “almost” because I’ve read Dalton Trumbo’s poignant novel, Johnny Got His Gun. But let’s not go there.)

If you haven’t seen them, there are institutions in every state where children, born in a persistent vegetative state, are cared for who can’t be cared for in their own homes and for whom there is a paucity of foster homes.  I’m familiar with such an institution and, as closely as discretion allowed, have spent considerable time observing the conscious-but-not-aware, immobile children that mostly populate the place.

If it’s cruel to say it and nobody else wants to, then I will be the first: These children are an inconvenience.  Many of them I’ve seen have no awareness, no hope of developing any awareness, and presumably no quality of life.  Many have been abandoned by their birth parents.  Under the criteria used to kill off Terri Schiavo, these children are indistinguishable from her, in other words, legally dead already, under Florida law anyway.  They are, nevertheless, U.S. citizens and, without a clear expression of national will codified into law, judges in different states have the option to order them executed under a mish-mash of indistinct state laws.  (I use the term “execute” rationally and according to its dictionary definition: to “put to death according to law.”  But then, I see my error: How could Terri Schiavo be put to death when, although her heart continued to beat on its own and she breathed without assistance, she was already legally dead.  You cannot kill again that which has already died…  You see, I can appreciate the other side of the debate!)


A nation with a growing population of nuisance individuals needs to decide what to do with them.  Why?  Because it costs a lot to maintain them and they are consuming valuable time and resources that could be applied to the living?  Some day that will be the incentive, but not yet.  Because they are weakening the gene pool?  That’s really only a mild side-effect involving a few individuals at this point.

We need to decide what to do with them because if we don’t reach one accord, we must realize that some day each of us may become not a national inconvenience but a personal inconvenience to the ones we most depend upon to look out for our interest.  Any of us may, then, be deemed unable to feel or comprehend and may then be sentenced to death by starvation or some such method.  Why would we want to subject our loved ones to the agonizing decision that Michael Schiavo had to come to and the rest of the family to a feud with no winner?

We could choose, after rational, national debate, to continue to be compassionate toward the partly dead among us, so that those who, like Michael Schiavo, have simply gone on as long as they can and need to be relieved will have a recourse other than a court order of execution.  Those who give up caring for the partly dead need to be forgiven for giving up but also need to understand that there should be no financial gain or loss in doing so.  They need the liberty to turn guardianship and custody over to the state, not so that the state can put their vegetable to death, but so that the state can then contract for further care if not equipped to maintain nuisance people in state-run semi-incarceration or warehouses.  A necessary adjunct to this decision will be to make possible a network of foster homes where people who have been turned over to the state can be cared for with the compassion that others can no longer muster.

Or we could create a national rating system and simply execute people who don’t score above, say, a ‘two,’ or some logical but fixed threshold.  If we do create a national rating system that provides for the execution of people who don’t meet the threshold, Terri Schiavo being a good example, those of us with loved ones in declining health who can’t speak for themselves – my son for instance – must accept the national will and step aside when that threshold is passed on one’s way to total death.  We must let the last heartbeat be assigned by the state, but according to a national law or constitutional amendment that leaves little doubt what the criteria are.


However such a debate might turn out, let us nevertheless accept the wishes of each individual who, while coherent, has expressed a desire to avoid “heroic measures” and “life support” when in a coma, persistent vegetative, or even quadriplegic completely-dependent state.  That is, if the national will dictates that we must sustain what life remains by whatever means are possible – pretty much as things are now despite the winds of change heralded by our collective apathy over Terri Schiavo – and if the individual says: “When I’m clearly on my way out, let me go,” then the debate should let the perspective of that individual be respected.

If instead the national will dictates that a scorecard will determine when to execute someone, but that someone, while aware and reasonably believing that such an end is coming, chooses a quicker end, that means ought to be arranged and respected.

For what follows it is necessary to acknowledge that there are several versions of the life of dubious quality.

– There is the person who was born essentially legally dead, or what is genteelly referred to as a persistent vegetative state – PVS.
– There is the person who has, for whatever reason, slipped into a permanent but persistent state of unconsciousness, PVS, and depends on artificial support only for sustenance.  (This was Karen Ann Quinlan.)
– There is the person who has, for whatever reason, slipped into a permanent but persistent state of unconsciousness or unawareness and depends on artificial support for respiration or circulation or both, as well as for sustenance.
– There is the conscious person who depends on artificial support for respiration, circulation, or sustenance, or any combination of the three, but who can persist indefinitely, even function productively, with that support.
– There is the person who is conscious and aware but severely mentally impaired, either from birth or from the occurrence of some event, who is dependent on artificial support for respiration, circulation, or sustenance, or any combination of the three.  (This is my son, Sam, who is on “life support,” that is, a feeding tube, for sustenance only.)
– There is the person who is apparently conscious but who persistently has no apparent awareness of things and is therefore dependent on artificial support for respiration, circulation, or sustenance, or any combination of the three.  (This was Terri Schiavo, who was on “life support,” that is, a feeding tube, for sustenance only.)
– There is the conscious person who is enduring a slow, agonizing death and who must gradually be brought under artificial supports as well as treatment for pain.
– There is the unconscious person who is enduring a slow, agonizing death and who must gradually be brought under artificial supports as well as treatment for pain.
-There is the person who was apparently healthy only a few days beforehand and who is rapidly slipping away due to a virulent infection, other ravaging illness, or mysterious causes.

And on it goes.

Given that I do not expect the U.S.A. to take from the Terri Schiavo incident any cogent lesson (but rather, I expect us to turn it over to Congress for endless, tiresome “debate”) and that, therefore, I will one day want to spare my loved ones the absolute whim of a court, for I seriously anticipate arriving at a state of complete dependence some day, I offer the following alternative.  It is my hope that, if the determination of my percentage of deadness is up to a court to decide, then the court will consider this analysis, or better still, will turn the matter over to my family because I have had the good sense to give some guidance here, thus sparing the court the trouble.

I should define clearly that my family, or loved ones, for purposes of this question, are my wife and two biological daughters.  That’s not to imply that I don’t also love someone else, but I don’t want my other loved ones, however many they may be, given control over my death or execution.  I’m sure the three I’ve named, or those that remain of the three when my time comes, can readily come to one accord and I bless that decision here and now.

If I am incompletely dead and anyone should suspect that the best thing for them, for me, and for my fellow man is that the rest of me should be put down, give me this test.  ‘Yes’ answers point toward sustaining life, ‘No’ answers point toward certain death.

Absent heroic measures and intensive testing:

1. Can I breathe on my own?
2. Does my heart beat reliably without external stimulus or support?
3. Can I cooperate with my own feeding or care?
4. Am I (apparently or occasionally – briefly every day for instance) conscious?
5. Perhaps restating #4, do I respond occasionally and deliberately to questions, gestures, or touch, and do two or more people agree that I do?

Given at least some intensive testing:

6. Am I free from virulent infection or other consumptive disease that, in my state, is likely to kill me in a few days anyway?  (Note: ‘No’ means Yes I have such a condition.)
7. Do I have any brain activity suggestive of awareness?
8. Is there a rational basis to assume I’ll ever again become conscious or aware?
9. Are my ancillary systems such as kidneys functioning with apparent intent to continue as they would if I were normal for my age?
10. Do two or more dispassionate “experts” agree that I have some residual cognitive consciousness, awareness, or potential for recovering some rational conscious awareness?

Once this test has been given, if there is any disagreement among my loved ones, I then suggest that two or more dispassionate individuals be chosen by consensus of my loved ones and be charged to interpret the results and render their advice.  I then enjoin my loved ones to accept that advice.  If I have, previous to becoming incapacitated, expressed a desire to be supplied with the means to artificially accelerate the end, that is, the means to finish dying quickly, then I request that two or more dispassionate individuals advise my loved ones on that matter and that they likewise accept the advice, to the extent that they may legally do so.

(I would not ask to have an assisted suicide arranged for myself unless I were consciously aware of present or impending unendurable pain.)

On the above test, if I score two or more on the Yes side in #1 through #5, then I think I would like to be sustained until it is more clear which way I will go. If I get one or two in the Yes column on #1 through #5 but it’s doubtful, then I would like to be sustained for a while if I also get two more in the Yes column on #6 through #10.  In no event do I want to be kept alive for more than a year if I am unconscious or apparently unaware throughout that time.  I’d probably be fine checking out after six months in that state, but if more passionate individuals prevail, then let them understand it just can’t go past a year.


If I have become apparently unaware and there is no prognosis for regaining awareness, as would be the case if I were being consumed by a virulent infection or metastasizing cancer, I also don’t want to be kept “alive” by heroic means.  Here’s an example how to interpret the test above.  If I’m not conscious, therefore on “life support” for sustenance, AND if either my breathing or heart won’t keep going without tubes and wires, AND if I ain’t coming back from this situation, then give it a few days if you must and then let me go.  I don’t consider Terri Schiavo that far gone, by the way.

I participated in the decision to “unplug” my father only four or five days after he had packed to leave the hospital under his own power following surgery for lung cancer.  But he had a serious reversal, and the decision was simple when the answer to #1 through #6 and #8 through #10 above was No in every instance.  I don’t remember whether #7 was answered.  Was that an execution?  Nooooo, because he wasn’t “put to death according to law.”  It was a medical determination, and the answer to #6 was the clincher.  Life support systems would have been insufficient to sustain him for another day anyway.  He was already unconscious and drew his last breath two or three minutes after being disconnected from the ventilator.

So, on the supposition that the national debate and clear direction to the courts will not be forthcoming in my lifetime, I have thought of what I would prefer if I were not clearly dead but were deemed by a court to be dead enough to be finished off in some gruesome way – if I were in Terri’s predicament.  And not only I, but if I am called upon to concur that a person under my care and guardianship is likewise due to be dispatched, these are a few of the ways I’d consider among my options, for myself and for someone else:

Starvation and thirst – The Terri Schiavo solution.  This is slow and, I must believe, agonizing even to a person who is already partly or legally dead.  The brain stem is a powerful advocate for food and water, and it is the brain stem that sustains respiration and circulation.  For me, at least, I would ask that my guardians consider my will to eat and drink as strong as my will to breath and pump.

Suffocation – Not with a pillow pressed over the face.  That would be too dramatic.  Instead, this could merely be a plastic tent placed over the head to slowly reduce the supply of oxygen to my lungs.  One assumes that I wouldn’t have the involuntary reflex to strike the tent away with my already-dead arms.  As long as it was a “natural” suffocation by merely depriving me of oxygen, in the manner of starvation by merely depriving me of sustenance, it would be a peaceful and efficient way to go, and certainly quicker than starvation.

Drowning – Assuming a compassionate intent to attend to the partly dead person’s comfort – after all, we do surround them with pillows and such – nothing is quite as soothing and comfortable as a warm bath.  I could be lowered into a bathtub, the warm water could slowly be raised in the tub until it completely covers me, I would inhale a little of it, and then it would be over.

Freezing – This is a possibility that removes most of the worry about the suffering that some might ascribe to the previous methods.  Even conscious people “suffering” from hypothermia aren’t aware that they are suffering.  (Judges take note: People don’t feel it, as those who’ve been rescued from the edge of death-by-freezing have testified.)  They become disoriented – if I were already partly dead presumably I would already be disoriented in the extreme – and then they slip from consciousness, and then their systems quietly shut down.  I think freezing Terri Schiavo would have been more humane than starving her.

Buried “alive” (but in fact partly dead) – If I were partly dead but a consensus couldn’t be reached concerning my wishes, I could be placed into a coffin and lowered into a grave where any of the foregoing consequences could take place and no one ever need know which one succeeded.

Bleeding – If I’m already partly dead and my heart and lungs haven’t the good sense to shut down, this may be my first choice of a way to go.  It would be quick, and it would not need to be messy.  I’ve already donated roughly 80 units of blood in my “life”time, and this would be a way of donating ten or so more units of good blood under a controlled collection process.  Then someone else who is not already partly dead but in need of more blood could be prevented from becoming partly dead.  If I’ve reached 90 donated units before I become partly or legally dead, then finishing me off in this manner would help me earn the coveted 100-unit pin!

Cremation – The opposite of freezing.  This has its advantages because it not only makes one completely dead but also completely resolves the secondary debate about what to do with the remains.  I frankly reject this solution for myself anyway, because I cannot accept that I wouldn’t feel it if I am legally dead but still have a heartbeat, like Terri.  Cremation, however, would be my disposal of choice once I am completely, 100% dead dead.  I am concerned that there isn’t enough land to keep burying people and pets and plastic.  Take the pressure off the land and burn me up.  Since the “law” was able to determine that Terri Schiavo didn’t feel thirst and starvation, maybe the same law could have found that she would not have felt heat.  How much more efficient it would have been simply to cremate her instead of subjecting certain of her relatives to the prolonged vigil of watching her starve!

Natural disposal – A very simple solution used by aboriginal Americans, according to some literature on the American Indians.  My partly dead body could be placed onto a platform above the ground, high enough that it would not be visible to people who might find it distasteful to accidentally glance upon the scene, and the crows and vultures and other hungry creatures of nature could each carry part of me away.  Digested in this manner, it would be nearly as efficient as cremation.  And anyone who wants a souvenir of me wouldn’t have to settle for a lock of my hair.  There are about 206 bones in the body, enough for all my friends to have one after they’ve been cleaned of the fleshy parts over a couple of weeks of exposure to nature.  I don’t think being picked apart in this manner would annoy me.  In fact, if I’m sufficiently disoriented, it might tickle.

Lethal injection – This would be fine but probably wouldn’t be approved by any court because it’s too much like punishment, which is what the judge ordered for Terri Schiavo, but we pretend that what happened to her wasn’t a death sentence.

Assisted suicide – This is an option under certain circumstances.  If I am partly dead, (dead enough to be put the rest of the way to death under a court order but too weak to protest that I didn’t commit any crime worthy of execution), but still marginally conscious and able to manipulate something, I might want to go this way.  The type of contraption that would make this effective would depend on my residual voluntary abilities at that point and, since it is not among my preferred ways to go, is beyond the scope of this discussion.

To make clear, suffocation as I’ve just described, or freezing, or bleeding out (with a little novocaine at the needle site) would be my preferred ways to be rendered completely dead.


There is but one matter left to consider.  Whatever the outcome of a national debate, and before it has been decided, it simply makes sense that each of us should prepare a living will.  I have one, and it authorizes the same people who would decide whether to sustain me by artificial means, upon deciding not to prolong artificial means, the option to then authorize the removal of parts of my body, through legitimate medical channels, to be used so that someone else can live.

For it is life which I revere.  I understand that just living through one day at a time may be difficult for some; can stink, really.  Suck even.  I can’t invoke spiritual, religious, or cosmic arguments here. People suspended somewhere beyond awareness or consciousness are also beyond spiritual guidance.  Even though I am guided by an authority above myself, I assume that authority only over myself.  When I assume that authority over you also, you have the same right to rebel that I have if you were to invoke some alien authority over me.  More religious people are logical than logical people are religious, and it is the intensely logical people who seem most not to understand what the big deal is about Terri Schiavo.  I don’t condemn those who don’t understand.  I appeal to their logic.

Terri Schiavo, whatever she was – woman or vegetable – was a citizen of the U.S.A.  She was executed at a judge’s order, and not by lethal injection or some other humane means but by starvation and dehydration, which, if inflicted upon a criminal would be condemned as a cruel and unusual punishment.  Being cremated alive would have been as humane.  She was sentenced to absolute death without a criminal charge, a trial, or a conviction.  What was done to her cannot legally or ethically be done to a disobedient dog.  (What is done to human babies just prior to parturition can’t legally be done to a litter of puppies, either, but that’s another debate.)  As a disabled person without a voice, she apparently had forfeited her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  One might have supposed that the ADA, a federal act which presumably, until Terri Schiavo, applied equally to all U.S. citizens, confers the right to remain disabled indefinitely.  That it does not is perhaps the most frightening implication of this event to those of us who care for, or might one day become one of, the severely disabled.

It initially astonished me that those charged with carrying out the sentence didn’t protest en masse and invite the judge to come clamp her off himself, if that was his order.

I want to be charitable toward Michael Schiavo.  He had tried to do the right thing for his disabled wife all these years and even, I heard, studied nursing and took time off to nurse her himself.  Eventually he wanted out, and the history of the case shows that there had been earlier attempts to do away with the nuisance that Terri had become.  He knew that there is a conventional way to dump a wife you don’t want to stay with, and that is divorce.  (There was some mumbling in the media that Florida made that difficult for him.  So what prevented him from dragging her to Georgia and divorcing her there?)  There is an unconventional way, and that is murder.  And for him, because Terri was a unique burden, there came a new, convenient way.

Never mind the accusations that it wasn’t until seven years after she uttered it that he mentioned his wife’s wish not to be kept on life support if anything tragic ever happened.  Never mind the insinuation that it was the cash from a malpractice settlement that motivated him to want her dead rather than divorced.  Never mind the other woman and the second family he started.  It comes to this: For whatever reason, he wanted his wife out of the picture.  Instead of divorcing her, getting on with his life, and letting Terri get on with hers – and who would have blamed him? – he found an accomplice in a judge and a law that could be twisted around her feeding tube, choking it off.

Is this how we all want to be treated?  And is this the sort of decision we want to inflict upon our families, whether parents, children, or spouses, when we have become burdensome and they have come to the end of their endurance with us?

What defines life and therefore citizenship and therefore protection under the law is not something to leave to the politicians.  The politicians get the second and third parts of it, but the first part, the very definition of life, must come from something deeper than politics and also something more rational than hodge-podged religion.  It must be found in the soul of our culture and must be plain to all of us, or else not one of us is safe.  We must debate it and we must decide.

David A. Woodbury, 31 March 2005

A Parting Tribute

Grove Cemetery lies two miles or so west of Concord, Vermont.  It occupies a couple of acres on a steep slope on the north side of US Route 2, isolated from nearby houses.  Summers on the hillside are verdant and sweet, but under the arctic winds of winter the same hill must be desolate and bone-chilling; but why would that matter?

My first recollection of visiting this cemetery might have been when I was eight or ten years old.  But no doubt I had been there when I was quite young as well.  Just a couple of years ago some friends and I took a northern route on a long-distance fishing trip to Lake Ontario, and as we crossed into Vermont I realized that we would be passing the cemetery, so I asked their indulgence to stop and let me look for something.

I remembered that there was a marker high on the slope, near the back of the field, and in probably less than a minute I found it:

Wesley R. Woodbury, Pvt, US Army, July 20, 1930 – November 22, 1952.

My friends gave me a respectful quarter hour to walk around and take in the silence, the loneliness, the finality of it all.  There was something else on his headstone about which unit he was in: the 40th Infantry Division, 223rd Infantry Regiment.

He was one of two from the 40th Division killed on November 22.  Before the combat ended, 155 more from the 40th have given their lives.  Really, though, now that you may have read a little of his story, what difference is there between Woody Woodbury, my father’s younger brother, and all the rest who have died in uniform?

It was August, 1952, when Woody was able to spend a few days at home with his wife and newborn daughter before returning to duty.  He crossed the Pacific on the General W.M. Black.  After some delay in Japan, he landed in Korea.

In a November 5 letter to my father, Woody wrote: “Letters are pretty hard to write up here.  When I write the folks I have to smooth things over so they won’t worry.  That leaves me practically nothing to write about.  I don’t feel that is necessary with you however.  I’ll just tell you facts and you can keep them to yourself.  The second day I got in Korea I got a good look at the things that are really happening here.  The train that brought me to the front stopped right beside a hospital train.  I watched them putting wounded men on the train.  The ambulances were bringing the men down faster than they could get them onto the train.  It was a sight that made me so sick I had to turn away and vomit.”

In that letter he went on to describe how three members of his unit had been killed.  And he added: “I guess our outfit will be on line until about May.  If I can keep my ass in one peace that long I’ll really be lucky.”  (He spelled poorly.)

And in the same letter, he wrote, ominously, prophetically: “Once in a while we go out into no man’s land and take up mines.”

What was there left of him after a land mine lifted him and half a ton of dirt twenty feet into the air in a split second?  Is it the concussion that kills, or maybe the hundreds of pieces of gravel piercing like bullets?  Does it lift you so suddenly that your joints pull apart all at once?  Or does it literally tear you to pieces?  Do you see your guts fly past your face before you black out forever?

Just before I turned two, Uncle Woody gave me a stuffed animal — a copper-colored dog.  My oldest daughter has it now and knows its provenance.  His widow, Dottie, re-married and had two more daughters, Gail and Cindy Shippee.  I saw my cousin, Brenda, on a few brief visits in my younger years, lost touch for most of our adult lives, and in 2007, when she was 54 and I 56, she died of a heart attack.

Did she ever hear the stories of her father’s troubled youth?  I wish she were still around so that, in our old age, we could meet again and reminisce.


What’s different about Woody is this: It makes me mad.  And I hope I can make more people mad.

Woody didn’t die for his country.  He died for Korea.  Just about every American military casualty since the Civil War did not take place in defense of the United States but was a sacrifice for another country.  Woody gave up what should have been another sixty years of doing what the rest of us have been doing all the while he has been chilling his bones on a Vermont hillside.

He could have been raising his daughter and having more children.  He might have enjoyed rock-and-roll, but he never heard a note of it.  He might have liked to try out a Corvette when it first appeared.  He didn’t get to see Neil Armstrong step onto the moon.  He never saw a computer.

May 30, 2018, will the sixty-sixth Memorial Day since Woody bit the dust, or maybe more precisely, since the dust bit him.  We are asked to remember those who gave everything so that the rest of us might have something.  OK, remember this: From 1950-1953 there were 36,516 who did not return from Korea alive, and 4,759 are still missing in action.  From 1959-1975 there were 58,272 who did not return from Viet Nam alive, and 2,489 are missing.  And since 2003 when we set out to defeat terrorism-in-the-name-of-Islam, more than 7,000 have given their lives, and there are at least 3 missing.

Altogether, since I was born — after World War II, over 100,000 Americans have not returned from undeclared wars on foreign soil.  And I am acutely aware that, wherever our guys died, untold thousands more humble humans of those other countries have died as well.

We can’t honor these war dead by holding a barbecue on the Monday nearest Memorial Day.  We can honor them by derisively interrogating anyone calling for more of the same senselessness that killed Woody — prolonged entrenchments with no commitment to ending things immediately and decisively.  Does that mean we should not defend ourselves?  Not at all.

As a naïve 19-year-old I joined the Army during the Viet Nam war.  But you can call me a pacifist, because it’s not in my nature to want to hurt anyone.  You can call me a war monger, too, because it’s not in my nature to submit to getting hurt, and I believe the only way to stop the killing is to stop the killer fast.  I joined up in 1970 because, if I had not done so, my draft number was next to be called, and then I would have had no say in where I would be sent.

I have this idea about war.  It’s like, if the bully punches you once, but you’re not prepared to resist, then you’ve been warned, and you’d better be prepared for the very next punch.  If, sooner or later, the bully punches you again, and you’re still not prepared, by default you have decided to accept whatever he decides to deliver, because life isn’t fair and the strong decide how the rest will live.

Once a bully hits you, though, he has forfeited all his rights: the right to choose your response, the weapons, the setting, the timing and intensity of your response, and whether he survives or is reduced to dust.

If the bully is a kid on the playground, you can surround yourself with protective friends or go to the principal.  If you’re a nation and the bully is another nation, you have no one to run to.  It’s up to you, and you had better not be ducking around and trying to find your escape route and protecting you nose while he rearranges your internal organs.  You’re sure as hell an idiot if you’re trying to talk peace while he dislodges your teeth.

If you’re a nation, and a bully hits you, I think you should lay him out flat, suddenly, and with everything it takes to forever prevent the next punch.  I know America doesn’t start wars, but when America gets sucked in by some tinpot dictator with a bad haircut and a pet word for God, (P. J. O’Rourke’s words, not mine), I cannot comprehend why we tiptoe around with so-called diplomacy and feed our soldiers to their bullying.  If the bully punches first, I think he ought not have time to draw another breath before he gets knocked out cold instantly.  The United States has had the ability to do that ever since the end of World War II.

If we’ve blundered into a treaty to protect some little foreign country, then we need to do the same, because the bully which is North Korea is still there, and still just as evil 65 years after Woody was killed.  And we still have troops on the ground there.  What the hell is that all about?  What will we do when the North resumes where it left off in 1953: negotiate or annihilate?

Our reason for going into Korea in 1950 was all about making the so-called United Nations look important and had nothing to do with protecting the United States.

Therefore, because we’re still playing war games in Asia, we have announced to the rest of the world that the United States is willing to march another 100,000 enthusiastic young American lemmings over the same precipice over the next, say, 65 years, so that diplomats can continue pretending to work for peace.  In the words of Lewis Forester, “while Congress is patting each other on the back and referring to themselves as the honorable Mr. So-and-So, men still die.”  These are the politicians in pressed suits whose motives need to be questioned, who argue that civilian casualties of a decisive response would be too high, who believe it is fitting and proper to kill 100,000 more Americans in the name of peace during one more lifespan.

Here’s a radical thought: Armies are comprised of civilians.  Read up on Article I, Section 8, Clause 12 in the Constitution.  The last time Congress declared war on an enemy was World War II.  Drafting civilians, especially in the absence of a declared war, does not make them professional soldiers.  It makes them frightened civilians who want to go home.  The uniform that Woody was wearing did not make him a sinister threat to world peace.  It made him dead.

Instead of crushing the bully before he knows what hit him back, we put troubled kids from backwoods places like Livermore Falls, Maine, on the ground in places like Inchon and Pleiku and we tell them that, if they just hold the ground for a few more days or weeks, our diplomats will have this all solved and they can go home to the mom and baby they left behind.  This is what makes me mad.

When I visited his grave on that recent trip through Vermont, there were fresh flowers lying at the base of Woody’s headstone.  His widow, Dottie, then alone and in her seventies, still lived in Vermont.  She might have known about the flowers.

As for my own easy time in the Army, during the Vietnam war, I am reminded of the line in Milton’s short poem (On His Blindness): “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  I served my time.  Yes, while I was enjoying myself in California and Europe, I was available for any other assignment the Army might have thrown at me, any new goof by the politicians, any new field that needed to be cleared of mines.  But I was only called upon to wait, (and decrypt Russian radio communications).  Then I was sent home and permitted to lead the life that my uncle was denied.  I don’t begrudge the Korean people Woody’s life.  Perhaps, though, the sadness told in this collection of letters and the brief history of this troubled youth and proud daddy will reach just one future politician who is tempted to negotiate treaties obliging our senseless sacrifice or who is tempted to politeness when responding to bully regimes.

-David A. Woodbury, March 12, 2017-

DotShippeeDOROTHY G. SHIPPEE – JERICHO – Dorothy G Shippee, 84, of Jericho, went to be with the Lord on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in the Williston Respite House.  Dorothy Rutledge was born on Nov. 19, 1930, in Concord, Vt., and her parents were Henry and Dorothy Aldrich.  She was predeceased by her daughter, Brenda J. Woodbury of Underhill; and a son-in-law, Douglas Kill of Orono, Maine.  She was also predeceased by her brothers, Roger of Ocala, Fla., and Rodney and Rupert of St. Johnsbury; and sister, Marilyn Palmer of Ferrisburg.  She is survived by two daughters, Gail Kill of Orono, Maine, and Cindy Hardy of Essex Junction, Vt.  She is also survived by six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, residing throughout the country.  The family is having a private celebration of her life, per her request.  Her complete obituary can be found at  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Respite House, Williston.

Woody start page

Brenda Woodbury

Brenda W

BRENDA J. WOODBURY, JERICHO — Brenda Joyce Woodbury, the admired actress and playwright, died on St. Patrick’s Day at a great but mysterious age. Known for her emotional generosity, swift intellect, and astonishing creative power, she found the world a beautiful, if disordered, place, and left the planet much improved. Her talents as an artist were surpassed only by her gift for being a mother; at that good art, she was genius itself. Brenda is survived by her mother, Dorothy Shippee; her sisters, Cindy Hardy and Gail Kill; and by Michael Merriam, her son. A funeral service will be held Saturday, March 24, at 1 p.m. in the Ready Funeral & Cremation Service South Chapel, 261 Shelburne Road, Burlington. To send online condolences to the family, please visit

[Brenda was 54 when she died.]

Brenda Ann

In the candid picture above, Brenda is about 18 (with long necklace), same age as my sister, Ann Woodbury, seated in the foreground.  The others in the picture are Brenda’s mother, Dorothy Shippee in back of Brenda, and her other daughters, Gail on the left and Cindy on the far right.  I surmise that the picture was snapped in Shippee’s house in Vermont on a visit that I may not have participated in.  (I would have been in the Army at that time.)

Woody start page – (previous) WRW letter 15 – next page (A Parting Tribute)

WRW letter 14

[Written by Clarice, mentions many names but not all are familiar.  Dot in the greeting is Dorothy (Miller) Woodbury, Victor’s wife.  Victor is Woody’s brother.  Mother on the first page is Clarice’s mother, Goldie (Sweet) Jensen, also referred to as Grammie on page 3.  David and Ann are Victor’s first two children who were ages two-and-a-half and one at the time of this letter.  Dot on page 4 and page 7 is Woody’s older sister Dorothy (Woodbury) Kinney.  Ginnie (Woodbury) Norris is Woody’s next-older sister.  Grammie C. is Bertha (Curtis) Woodbury, Woody’s grandmother and first wife of George Woodbury who is mentioned in the previous letter, WRW letter 13.  Bertha remarried after her marriage to George and is Bertha Cochrane in this letter.  Dad on the last page also refers to George Woodbury, who had just died in February.  Dot in the very last paragraph is Woody’s widow, Dorothy (Rutledge) Woodbury.  Others remain unidentified.]

Dear Dot and Vic:
Monday and I’m home have many things to do and its raining but I’ll answer letters first or I’ll never get it done —
Received your letter when I got home Sat.  Tell the children I thought their Easter card the prettiest one I got.  Mother is in F. [Farmington] comes home tomorrow so I’ll give her hers and I know she’ll like it.  Tell David he wrote a nice letter and I understood it much better than I do most letters I get —
I have a bad case of the blues today so shouldn’t be writing at all but it’s raining so I


thought I’d get caught up on all my back letters — I owe so many probably never will
I thought from Ann picture she was much larger then David.  I have some pictures to send up if I ever can remember to pick thru them —  By the way what is Ann’s birth date I know she didn’t come when you expected her and I’m not good at remembering anyway?  I sure feel ancient regarding how Vic feels about me — my eyes have failed so fast I had to have double vision glass and that with every thing else the years are sure doubling up on me —

Guess you forget Grammie [Goldie Jensen] does her own driving now, but you would never get her that far from Nick [her daughter by second marriage to Walter Jensen].  I’ll see how I come out financially before I plan any trips I find one has to have a little cash to eat and sleep now days and I blew myself to a pair of glasses which I have needed for five years.
Elsa [dog] and Minie [?] went to Farmington with Mother so I expect they had the time of their lives —
What a crowd you had Easter but how nice to get together it i hard now days to do that sort of thing with autos and


all no one has time to visit it seems —
Got a nice letter from Ginnie today hasn’t heard from my Dot for a long time something must be bothering her.  That’s why I hate to write letters seems as if someone is always trying to make something of them I never can put on paper what I think and feel —
I expect they’ll be putting Woody to rest again soon I so wish it had been done befor.  I hope I know in time to go up — He also is

to be awarded the Bronze Star don’t know as I’ll get an invite to that or not. time will tell —
We have had rain nearly every day for so long its so depressing I’m just looking forward to some sun —
When we have a winter without much snow we make up for it somehow —
That snap of David in the kitchen was so cute. I’ve seen him look like that so many times They were all cute —  They grow up too fast believe me I know —
Next time I write I’ll try being in a better frame of mind —


I see Pat Pauletts mother once in a while Pat is married and works in the Globe office (laundry) —  Have seen Johnnie K. one since Woody went —  Saw Adams she looks bad hear that Bill is tipping the bottle too much (thats probably the reason) but she should know she went with him 22 years before is wife died.
Hatch baby sits for Eileen so she is working + going to get a new car has been working since baby was eight weeks old.

Anyway it keeps Hatch out of mischief.  She was in shop Sat. as E. had the day off.  Boy I’m glad shes working I don’t want her around my neck all the time —  I don’t know any news about the rest of the people you know as I don’t go much have been to F. just once since Nov. and wasn’t sure as Dot was pleased to see me or not.
Miss Quigley (Belmont) wrote me a nice letter when she heard about Woody — She must be very old by now — I hope


to look her up sometime I go to Boston also Grammie C.  I haven’t been up since Dad passed way — Dont know when I’ll get courage again.
Hope I’m in a better mood next time I write.
You planted the seed we’ll see if it grows — anyway thanks for the invitation —

Lots of love to all

Included is a card I should have sent it in Feb. but had hoped Dot would send me one for a keepsake I didn’t put my name on as I didn’t feel a brother expects thanks he is on the thanking side




Woody start page – (previous) WRW letter 13 – next page (WRW letter 15)

[In this as with other letters in this series, I have attempted to transcribe the written text while faithfully retaining the writer’s peculiarities and errors of spelling and punctuation.  Sometimes, though, the aggressiveness of spell-check prevails and a correction gets past me.  The errors in preserving the errors are strictly my own.  -DAW-]

WRW letter 13

[Not quite three months after Woody was killed, his grandfather, George Hugh Woodbury, died in Belgrade, Maine at age 79.  This was written by Nellie (Sanborn) Woodbury, his second wife (not Woody’s grandmother.)  Walter was her son with George.  His death only added to the confusion and tumult in the family at the time.]


Feb. 27th 1953
Dear Dorothy + Victor
This is a lonesome day it is snowing and I think winter is here to stay through March.  Walter stays nights with me but goes to Waterville to work early in the morning.  They would have me out there to stay but the water here would have to be shut off here and then on again.  They talk of moving here in the Spring and try raising chickens, farming, his wife would like that and he still keep the job he has now.
I feel bad not to have any late pictures of George.  [crossed out: Would you send me one of the snap shots you took of him here] and we will try to find something for you.  I just found some pictures you took here in 1951 they are good ones and I am so glad.


Guess you think this is a funny letter.  I do not like to write letters but do like to get them so please over look all the mistakes.  I got up this morning at 5:30 got Walter up and on his way now it is only 1 o’clock and he will not be home tonight.  I miss Geo. so much life is not worth living with out him.  He went to the hospital in ambulance Feb. 8 and lived untill the night of the 13th.
There is so much more to write.
I will close with
with love to you



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WRW letter 12


[Written by Clarice.  Donald, Dot, and Ginnie are siblings of Wesley and Victor]

Dear Kids,
I’ve wondered why I didn’t get an answer to my last letter have looked every mail.  All the other children answered right away as to their plans.
Donald wrote that he wouldn’t be able to make it.  Dot + Carroll wrote they would go by car from Farmington so as to get here that night
Ginnie wrote she plans to go and so dar as I know now she will leave Portland on the 8:30 A.M. train of course she may change her plans In fact they may all.  Ginnie will have to get to Brunswick at 6:30 in order to make the train  I haven’t heard



from her since she found that out but expect to tomorrow.
I do hope you let us know if you plan to come or not and if so what your traveling time will be etc.
I’m at shop and haven’t time for more now will mail tis on my way and hope to get an answer very soon —
Bee arrived unexpectedly from Boston last night has gone to Farmington and has to be back in Tewksbury Friday — I’ll have to mail this after I get home as I haven’t the new address here with me. Hope you all like your new home.  Love to all


at home —
I do hope to hear from you my the morning mail.  So we will know if you are coming or not.
I also expect to hear from Ginnie again tomorrow.

Love to all



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WRW letter 11


[Written by Victor]

note new address
740 W. Spring
Lima, Ohio

Dear Don:
Expect you have heard from Mom by now.
Thought I had better write and inform you and your Missus, that we are in Lima, Ohio. (Look up on map.) About 60 miles from Fort Wayne, Ind. This is Dot’s home town and we moved here last August. I’m with Westinghouse here, Production Expediter.
Your Xmas card just forwarded to us — we had written a couple of times since Aug. but got the letters back.
The nature of this letter is to suggest a get to gather. (over)


We sold our car when we left Florida.  So don’t have transportation at least not until summer.
When the date of Woody’s funeral has been decided I will take a leave of absence for about a week — and take a day too Vermont a day there, one day in Maine and a day to return.  Don’t expect to get fired for it and feel it would be worth anything as I wonder who will be the next one and don’t want to miss the opportunity to see all the folks I can – –
Was my idea that maybe you would go to Vermont with me — Concord just outside St. Johnsbury                    next page


Plan to go by bus as it is cheapest and could make it in one day — 24 hours
Drove from Portland to Lima last summer, left Portland at 12:45 p.m. on a Friday and arrived Lima at 12 Sat. noon
Would not have been 24 hours but had 4 adults + 2 kids aboard and they had to pee pee or something most of the time also did some sight seeing —
I don’t intend to take my family as the expense and time factor would be prohibitive
Feel that Mom needs all moral support possible and know your presence would reaffirm her belief in God


Please write anyway and I hope we can work out some arrangement by which we can get to Vermont when necessary together —
Have just moved last Sunday
Address is
740 W. Spring
Lima, Ohio,
tel. 98-182

Dottie will write Jayne when we get settled —
Write soon — Love
Vic, Dot, David + Ann

P.S. misplaced your address in moving hope this reaches you



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WRW letter 10

[This letter was mailed two days before Woody was killed. But it was returned to sender because of the address. So Dorothy wrote a note on the back of the first envelope and then re-sent it in another envelope, which was also returned to sender. Donald Woodbury had placed himself out of reach of his family, which requires that his story be told in its own right some day.]

17 November 1952

Dear Don,

Suppose you had given up hearing from us again. We have been thinking of you, but are just really getting settled into living again, and finding time now + then for correspondence.
Our Ann was born on April 18th (10 lbs + 12 oz.) She wasn’t yet 3 weeks old when we sold our possessions in Fla. + moved to Maine first week of May. It wasn’t a wise selection of location in the North, though, as far as employment is concerned. We spent 3 mos. up there looking for a satisfactory job with no success.
Mo brother + sister-in-law had vacation last week in July + 1st week in Aug. so they came to Portland for us + again we packed our clothes + few


remaining possessions and moved to Lima, Ohio – my former home. Plenty of work here and Vic found a job right away – nights, though, at Lennox Furnace Machine Shop. Spent days looking for a day job while waiting for references etc. to come through for job in a bank. Only 2 weeks at Lennox then got a job at Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton (former Lima Locomotive Works) which is making cranes, shovels, etc. now. And after a month there his bank job came through, so he is now a teller a The Metropolitan Bank of Lima, O.
We lived not a month with my sister + finally found an unfurnished apt. Between relatives and friends we managed to furnish 3 rooms with only refrigerator to buy.
It all constituted somewhat of a loss to us and expense to your mother + Grammie + also to a couple of my relatives, but we are happy to be out of the South. Mom + Grammie know we gave Maine a fair try + although they may have wanted us in Maine, they felt we should go where the work was. And my folks are pleased to have us closer to them.
Never said much to the folks about you except that we had heard from you a couple of times. They do like to hear from you, guess you had written them around the same time we last heard from you. They (Mom + Grammie) are


buying used clothing + reselling it. Not much in it for them, but it’s time consuming.
Nicki is in Boston, still in B Sanitarium. Vic got to see her when we were in Maine. She has both TB + diabetes and doesn’t show much improvement. She’d probably enjoy a letter from you. Her life is pretty much centered around her fellow patients + the rest of the world is somewhat distant now. Don’t klnow if she’ll ever be strong enough to go home + renew a normal life. Her address is 198 Pilgrim Road Boston 15, Mass.
Woody is in Korea. His wife had a little girl in July (Brenda Joyce) Believe he saw her only once before he was shipped overseas. Address is:
Pvt. Wesley R. Woodbury, U.S. 51127845
Hq. Co., 3rd Bn. 224th Reg.
40th Div., A.P.O. 6
San Francisco, Calif.
Our “kiddoes” are both growing. Ann sits alone, has 5 teeth now. She’s 7 mos. old. David recites several nursery rhumes, sings some of “Jesus Loves Me”, and what he isn’t eager to do, or learn about isn’t worth talking about. Naturally we think they are the best ever + being a father you know what we mean/
Enough about us – imagine a lot has happened in your life since last January. Dennis + Donna Marie? Your fiancee? Insurance job?
Ever have a couple of days at a time off work? Any transportation? Maybe you could drop in on us some week-end.
Our transportation consists of a wooden wagon we pull Ann + David in and we walk.
Vic is going to school on Monday nights (guess they going to change days, though).


Commercial Law class under American Institute of Banking. David is getting fussy. It’s 8:30 + bedtime, so will close or now.
Write when you can. You did promise to answer if we would write.
Vic, Dorothy, David + Ann

[On back of original envelope:]
Dear Don,
Will try sending registered hoping it reaches you that way. Mom must have wired you – don’t know if you rec’d. or not. Since writing this we got wire – nothing else yet. Woody was killed in action in Korea on Nov. 22. If this letter reaches you let us know right away.
Vic, Dottie, David + Ann



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