Issue 3: A Letter from the Editor
In 1943, my grandfather, Lewis F. Brandt, Jr., enlisted as a private of the United States Army. He was immediately sent from St. Louis to boot camp in Indiana and flown shortly thereafter to France to serve in World War II. He was smart and strong, and as a commissioned officer quickly rose rank to a Second Lieutenant Platoon Commander. Shortly following his enlistment, my grandmother found out she was pregnant with her first child. She was 18.
Her baby boy, who she delivered while her husband was marching on the beaches of Normandy, was three years old before he met his father. His name was Lewis Frederick Brandt, III, but she called him her little “Bud.”
After D-Day, Lewis’ 50-man platoon walked more than 300 miles from Normandy, France, to Remagen, Germany, where they fought in the Battle of Remagen, resulting in the American capture of the Ludendorff Bridge over the river Rhine. During the successful fight, Lewis was shot with a machine gun so severely that the field doctors were sure he wouldn’t survive. Barely conscious, he was awarded a purple heart with a cluster and a bronze star and placed on a medical ship for America. He wasn’t expected to complete the trip alive.
When Lewis returned home, he was wrapped in bandages and limped into a life where his family didn’t recognize him. When he said goodbye to his newly pregnant wife years earlier, he was 6-foot-5 and weighed 200 pounds. When he returned, he weighed 98.
That same year, the Axis powers surrendered, and the Second World War came to an end. As Lewis’ battle-engagement medals arrived in the mail, his health strengthened. He returned to his electrician’s apprenticeship, built a home and enjoyed a marriage that awarded him a second and third child—my father. What became a habitual, ordinary life was motivated by a heroic past and a shared kinship with nearly 16 million other WWII veterans.
The creatives we are inspired by are often intrinsically motivated themselves by the journeys of their forebears. Artist Aram Han Sifuentes sews protest banners with the same needle strokes that her mother—a Korean immigrant seamstress—used to teach her when she was five. Architect and artist Souliyahn Keobounpheng’s work is shaped by his early childhood in Laos and the Indochina refugee crisis he survived shortly following the Vietnam War.
Crisis—and the trauma resulting—can either serve as an extinguishing crutch or an ignition of strength. Jenny Rush, a Manhattan urbanite during 9/11, channeled her fear and grief into inspiration to start a new life—and a new creative career. Ryan Santos of Please in Cincinnati transformed a Crohn’s disease diagnosis into a chef’s career. Living with the social and political discrimination that often accompanies being a Black child in Chicago, writer and scholar Eve L. Ewing learned to transform daily occurrences into otherworldly narratives to inspire creativity in her readers. And Maurice Blanks, co-founder of modern-furniture giant Blu Dot, started his wildly successful career on the tail of his failed TV show and during the market crash of 2008.
I keep my grandmother’s memoir on the coffee table in our house. In it, she details those early years of her marriage when she sent letters to my grandpa, explaining to him the changes in his baby’s face as the years without his father wore on. I feel such gratitude for the pain when I read it, reminding me of the finality, impermanence and preciousness of life. Inspired by their sacrifice, smiling comes easy.