When The Advocate asked readers to submit their best Fourth of July memories, Bertie VanBuskirk picked up her pen.
But her letter (page 45) doesn’t tell the complete story. VanBuskirk has accomplished quite a bit in her lifetime, not the least of which being that she turned 91 last month.
Many decades ago, VanBuskirk worked as a riveter in WW II, helping turn B-24 and B-29 airplanes into bombers. Back then, women who did this kind of work had no way of knowing what the fate of the aircraft they helped to build would be. So, often, they wrote their names and addresses on the inside of the planes, hoping the crews would send them snapshots.
Last year, VanBuskirk was going through some old photos and came across two pictures she had received of WW II bombers. She turned them over and found the names written on the back: Plum Lake and Enola Gay. Though she didn’t realize it until later when she looked it up in her encyclopedia, the Enola Gay is the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
She has no way to confirm it now, but she’s pretty sure she worked on that plane.
I couldn’t believe it,” VanBuskirk says of her discovery. “I had no idea.”
She finds the current praise being heaped upon our military personnel heartening. Many members of her own family served in the Armed Forces: Her brother served in the Navy during WW II; her second husband was an Army military policeman who served in WW II and Korea; her older son served in Korea and the youngest in Vietnam; and two of her grandchildren served in the Army during peacetime.
Today, VanBuskirk lives in Lakewood, in the same house she moved into almost 40 years ago.
Despite her age, not much slows VanBuskirk down. She still drives, gardens, and teaches piano and organ lessons.
“I’m not in a rocking chair!” she says. But for the record, the word elderly doesn’t offend her. “It states experience, happiness, sorrow, wisdom, and a hope for another day. Old is all in the state of mind.”
As to the secret of her longevity ….”I guess just keeping busy. I read a lot, because that keeps the brain working, and that works better than my back right now,” she says with a laugh.
These days, VanBuskirk busies herself by chronicling her life in photo albums for her three surviving children (her eldest son died in 1966) and four grandchildren. “My Story in Pictures: Once upon a time in the hills of Kentucky …”reads the first page of the completed Vol. 1 (she’s still working on the second album and plans more).
“When I turned 90, I got to thinking: I got to get this done. I can’t play around here!” she says.
Each page is filled with photos, handwritten stories, newspaper clippings and other mementos. Her birth certificate is in there, as are locks of hair, her parents’ wedding license and a poem her brother wrote in May 1932.
“It was fun,” she says of her life. “I’d do it all over again if I could.”
Her next goal is leaning to use the computer she recently received from daughter, Jeannine, also a neighborhood resident.
“I don’t know how to work it,” VanBuskirk says. “But they gave it to me so I could write my stories.”
That’s where she draws the line.
“I’m not going to be using the Internet and all that,” she says with a chuckle. *
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