Blitz, Boats, and Buchenwald: One Seattle Veteran's Story

Nov 8, 2013

Norma Strecker’s birthday comes just three days before Veterans Day, and this year, she’s turning 92.

Seven decades have passed since she was serving in the U.S. Army, drawing maps of France to be used by Allied troops in the coming invasion. She spent five months in London, under nightly bombing by the Germans during the so-called “Little Blitz.”

“We would put an overcoat on and go down one block to the Mayflower Hotel, down in their basement. And we’d come up and see blocks burning. But as long as ours was there, well, we went back,” Strecker said.

After the invasion, she and her fellow draftsmen crossed the English Channel into France, and she spent the next year based in Paris. In the war’s waning days, she tagged along with another female soldier taking a driving tour. They passed through the recently-liberated Buchenwald concentration camp.

“We went in and all the chicken wire cages, with straw on the ground,” she said, her voice thickening. “And then, ovens. All across the back wall. Seeing that I thought I was going to be sick and I said, I’ve got to get out of here. Because I thought, 'There’s nobody in the world that knows I'm here. Nobody.”'

It’s those victims Strecker says she thinks about when Veterans Day rolls around year. And she thinks of the young veterans, generations after her own, still coming home with wounds. She hopes the public will remember them, too.

“Well, I think they should go to the hospitals and see these fellows that are hurt, do things for them,” she said.

Despite the horrors she witnessed, Strecker said she’s glad she enlisted. If she hadn’t gone into the Army, she said, she’d never have seen much of the world at all.

"I’d still be in Detroit!” she said.