A Queen Among Us

Queen Mona

In January of 1944, Mona Ruwaldt was destined to graduate from high school as the valedictorian of her class and go on to college, but first there was a coronation. The young people of Hammond, Indiana, had collected 50,000 pounds of paper in a drive for the war effort. Mona and her classmate Doug Radicky were chosen to reign as the royal couple, the Salvage Paper King and Queen. Their photo appeared in newspapers across the nation.

Mona went on to graduate from Northwestern University with honors, followed by med school, a career as Mona Ruwaldt, M.D., and a life as wife and mother. Today, unaffected by her titled origins, she lives quietly on Lake View Circle, showing the grace of true royalty.

Mona CU

Photo: ACME Newspictures, Chicago Bureau, Tribune Tower, Chicago



Dog Tags

About 10 years ago, I was helping friends downsize; they were moving out of a house filled with decades of memories and my job was to fill my car with stuff to be donated and cart it over to the St. James’ Thrift Shop. In the course of emptying closets and sorting, the man of the house came over to me and held up his dog-tags. I knew he had served in World War II, as a Marine, and had seen combat on Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.

“Do you know why these are taped together?” he said.

“So they wouldn’t make noise,” I replied.

“That’s right,” he said. And he told me he’d been a Forward Artillery Observer. From my reading (but certainly not from my own experience), I knew this was a formal title for someone who crawled as close to enemy lines as possible, watched when the artillery opened up, and then radioed back directions and yardage to the artillery men to help them zero in on the target.

“You had to get pretty close to their lines,” I said.

“Oh, I could hear them talking.”

“That must have been pretty scary.”

“Yes, it was.” He paused, and then his eyes kind of lit up, and he added, “but when those rounds came in, it was pretty darned exciting.”

Always in a Rage

One of the more colorful visitors to Roosevelt Hall was Ernest J. King who in July of 1935 spent a weekend as the guest of Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. King was the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and already known as one of the more outspoken officers in the U.S. Navy.

Just three years earlier he had attended the Naval War College, and in his thesis noted that America’s weakness was representative democracy:

“It is traditional and habitual for us to be inadequately prepared. This is the combined result of a number factors, the character of which is only indicated: democracy, which tends to make everyone believe that he knows it all; the preponderance (inherent in democracy) of people whose real interest is in their own welfare as individuals; the glorification of our own victories in war and the corresponding ignorance of our defeats (and disgraces) and of their basic causes; the inability of the average individual (the man in the street) to understand the cause and effect not only in foreign but domestic affairs, as well as his lack of interest in such matters. Added to these elements is the manner in which our representative (republican) form of government has developed as to put a premium on mediocrity and to emphasize the defects of the electorate already mentioned.”

In 1938, he underscored his opinion by staging a successful simulated naval air raid on Pearl Harbor, showing that the base was dangerously vulnerable to aerial attack. He wasn’t taken seriously.

As WWII approached, King was appointed as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, and promoted to admiral in February 1941. On December 30, 1941, three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he became Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet.

Following Japan’s defeat at the Battle of Midway, King advocated the invasion of Guadalcanal. The campaign was ultimately successful, and for the first time the Japanese lost ground. Throughout the war, King was widely respected for his ability, and heartily disliked. Historian John Ray Skates wrote, “Only British Field Marshal Montgomery may have had more enemies. King also loved parties and often drank to excess. Apparently, he reserved his charm for the wives of fellow naval officers.”

Franklin Roosevelt described him as a man who “shaves every morning with a blow torch.”

King’s view of press relations was simple. He said, “Don’t tell them anything. When it’s over, tell them who won.”

One of his daughters said, “He is the most even-tempered person in the United States Navy. He is always in a rage.”

One hopes that the beautiful vistas and calming influence of the lake made him an enjoyable guest during his 1935 visit to Skaneateles.


Above, U.S. Naval Commanders in the Marianas Campaign, South Pacific. L. to R.: Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance, commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet; Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy; Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Leading the Way on D-Day


Fifteen minutes past midnight on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Capt. Frank Lillyman of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, became the first soldier of the Allied invasion force to land on French soil. Leading a 15-man Pathfinder group, he jumped out of a C47 that had slowed to 120 m.p.h. Because the emphasis was on speed and stealth, the drop was from a low altitude. This conferred two benefits: Bulky reserve chutes could be left on the plane; if the main chute didn’t deploy, the jumper would hit the ground before he had time to deploy another. And jumping from a low altitude gave the men less time to think about how vulnerable they were.

The men had one other thing going for them: Capt. Lillyman was jumping with a lit cigar clenched in his teeth, as he had on his previous 47 jumps; the good luck provided by the cigar was appreciated by every man on the team, and by Lillyman’s wife, Jane, as well; she frequently sent him cigars from Skaneateles to supplement his Army ration.

Jane was born in Skaneateles, and it was here that she waited for news of her husband, and read his many letters. But at 0015 on D-Day, Capt. Lillyman’s thoughts were not of our village, but rather the village of St. Germaine de Varreville where he had just landed, about a mile from Drop Zone A. There was not enough time to trek a mile to the original target, so Lillyman found a wide, treeless pasture behind a church and the group began to deploy battery-powered lights to mark the field for the incoming paratroopers.

Somewhere in the dark, a lone German with a machine gun was firing short bursts, probing for the intruders. “Damned annoying it was,” Lillyman later recalled. “Finally I sent two men to convince him of the error of his ways. Pretty soon I heard a grenade go off, and then everything was lovely and quiet.”

Now, all the men had to do was wait for the paratroopers to arrive. “That was the longest 47 minutes in my life,” Lillyman said. “Those lights never looked bright in training, but that night they looked like searchlights.”

A German bicycle patrol saw the men, but quickly rode away, discretion being the better part of valor. After the paratroopers landed, Lillyman and his men hiked seven miles cross-country to another site to prepare a landing field for gliders. German soldiers were hiding in the hedges along the way, covering the roads carefully. But the Pathfinders were not on the roads. At the end of the hike, the score was USA 18, Germany 0.

However, while helping out an isolated glider that was under enemy fire, Lillyman was shot in the arm and caught a mortar splinter in his face. He was sent back across the Channel to recover, but talked his way onto a military transport and was back at the front eight days later. At the end of the war, he had spent 10 months in combat, had been wounded three times and decorated eight times.

Lillyman returned home to Skaneateles, and garnered one more measure of fame. To keep himself going in Europe, he had jotted down ideas for a dream week in New York City, at the best hotel. He saved $500 for the vacation, and wrote to the hotel he had in mind, asking them if they could fulfill all his wishes for that sum. They replied that they could, but it would be “on the house.”

Lillyman Life

The December 3, 1945, issue of Life magazine ran a feature on the family’s dream vacation. Soon afterwards, the Captain returned to duty and was posted elsewhere. In all, he served in the U.S. Army for 25 years. He died in 1971, a hero with a sense of humor.

The Priest with a Purple Heart

Stuart The Rev. Donald Cameron Stuart served as rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Skaneateles from January of 1923 to 1926. Born 1893 in Syracuse, he graduated from Hobart College with the class of 1915, and completed his studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. The United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917, and Stuart enlisted in the Army in June, serving as a Private, a Sergeant and then as a Second Lieutenant in the 108th Infantry, 27th Division, in France.

27th Division

“The Glorious 27th” by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963)

Stuart saw action at Yypres-Lys, and was wounded during the final Somme Offensive, at the battle around the Le Selle River, on October 17, 1918 — three days before his regiment was relieved, and less than a month before the Armistice. He received the Purple Heart, and was discharged in July of 1919. He took “a refresher course” in theology at Cambridge University in England, and was ordained as an Episcopal priest. Shortly after Donald began his service as rector at St. James’ in Skaneateles, he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant and became the chaplain of the 108th Infantry, now a reserve unit. He left St. James’ in 1926 to serve at St. George’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Utica, N.Y., but continued as an Army chaplain. In spite of his war experiences, or perhaps because of them, he had a unique perspective. In a sermon he preached at St. George’s in 1933, he said, “Many of His followers act as though they must get rid of all fun and pleasure if they are to be good. But how can we expect to bring others into the church if we picture Christianity as a religion of gloom and sadness? It is the devil who tries to make us see only the sorrow and the suffering of life… Of course Christians will not find joy and happiness by avoiding labor and suffering on this earth. The Christian must always be ready to endure suffering for God and for men. But through our toil and suffering, we Christians know there is still a joy in living.” In 1940, on the eve of World War II, the Rev. Stuart’s unit was called to active duty; he was promoted to Lt. Col. and became the chaplain of the 27th Division. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he sailed to Hawaii to serve in his second World War. He returned to the U.S. in July of 1943 as post chaplain at the Ashford General Hospital in White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, before being assigned to Washington, D.C., as chaplain at Walter Reed General Hospital, where he ended his military career. After retirement, he moved to Florida, where he died in 1977.