This Book Can Talk

“It’ll continue to talk with future owners long after I’m gone!”

“Little America” – Admiral Richard E. Byrd

My mother told this story numerous times. Dad did the same. With my brother being four years older than me, Jim recalls the incident as clear as day. I vaguely remember it at all. This event would’ve taken place in 1958. We were either traveling to California from Alabama or vice versa:

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When I was four years old, I was sitting in an Arizona restaurant with my family eating breakfast when a stranger appeared. He’d walked over from a nearby table where his wife and two children sat.

The man smiled and then asked my folks if Jim and I could have a gift. He held out two silver dollars. They were the real deal; Morgan dollars made from 99% virgin silver.

Dad and mom allowed us to accept his gracious offer. I’m quite positive they made sure we thanked the gentleman. They never missed a chance to remind us on doing such. Eventually it stuck without their prodding.

We still have those dollars only because mom held on to them over the years. Jim and I always wondered why this person singled us out for the gifts? Something led him our direction. Mom joked, saying we probably looked deserving. I mistook that as meaning poor!

While looking at them one day, Jim made this statement,

If only these coins could talk!”

I’ve heard that term numerous times regarding all kinds of old things; lately it seems to be antique cars and trucks.

Unfortunately, material objects often do not historically speak unless a portion of their background is known. In the case of these silver dollars, such prior information is missing and always will be. That’s not the case with an old book I own.

Morgan silver dollar given to me by a stranger when I was a kid

Admiral Richard E. Byrd has always been one of my heroes. Back in the day he was just about every kid’s. I tend to believe most young people of this generation have never heard of the man. Let’s just say he was an Antarctic explorer and leave it at that. There’s plenty of information floating around about Mr. Byrd if you desire to learn more.

Richard Byrd wrote a book titled, “At the Bottom of the World” regarding his South Pole experiences. I purchased a first edition copy (1930) from a used book dealer in Hendersonville, North Carolina. It has Byrd’s signature in ink on the inside front cover. The book has loose bindings which I intend on getting fixed.

A private library stamp identifies the manuscript as once belonging to Frank and Joy Blazey. Stuck in the middle of this book almost unnoticeable I discovered a thin, personalized stationery page. The top letterhead reads: Elizabeth B. Stein. 1765 East 55th Street. Chicago. She’d evidently used it as a book marker. Notations written in pencil are on the backside.

Joy & Frank Blazey private library stamp
Elizabeth Stein stationery header
Backside of Elizabeth Stein’s stationery with page references and corresponding notations

I decided to investigate further and see who these former book owners were. What I found was nothing short of amazing. While Admiral Byrd’s life was nothing to sneeze at, the Blazey’s life experiences including Elizabeth Stein’s were just as remarkable. I believe Ms Stein was the first owner because she’s the oldest person here being born sometime around 1898. I’ll start with her adventurous life.

Elizabeth B. (Lischa) Stein

Lischa as most people called her, means, “The Lord is my salvation.”

An article by Pulitzer Award winning Chicago Tribune writer, Mary Schmich, tells Elizabeth Stein’s life history much better than I ever could:

Elizabeth Stein
Elizabeth Stein with an unidentified friend

Joy Drew Blazey

Joy Drew Blazey was a teacher just like Elizabeth Stein. A well-written obituary best sums up her life.

Joy Drew Blazey

General Frank Blazey

General Frank Blazey – U.S. Army (retired)

General Frank Blazey is an American military hero. His list of accomplishments in life is quite substantial. The following information comes from an excellent article written by, Derek Lacey, of the “BlueRidgeNow Times-News Online”:

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Friends and family are mourning the loss of a generous, dedicated and humble man after the passing of Brigadier Gen. Frank Blazey on Monday. He was 92.

Blazey is remembered as a philanthropist, a true patriot and a voracious lover of life, as well as a fierce friend and a humble but accomplished veteran who was always ready to give of himself and his time.

Born in Farifield, Illinois in 1924, Blazey spent some time before high school with his mother’s father in Springfield, according to his son, Frank Blazey III. Blazey’s grandfather was a state senator and Blazey would clean spittoons and served as a page on the floor of the Illinois Senate before heading off to high school at Columbia Military Academy in Tennessee.

He attended the University of Illinois for more than a year when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. Blazey sought entry into the Military Academy at West Point, which took him more than a year to get into with competition from other volunteers, Frank Blazey III said.

But Blazey graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, commissioned as a lieutenant in 1946. He went on to serve in the Korean War as an infantry company commander, to include assignments with the 65th Infantry Regiment, where he was awarded the Silver Star for valor under fire.

After serving in Korea, he returned to West Point, assigned as an instructor, and served two assignments on U.S. Army staff at the Pentagon. He then served in Vietnam, where he commanded a brigade, before an assignment commanding the Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, according to information provided by Mike Murdock, Henderson County veterans services officer.

Blazey returned to Vietnam for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces in 1972 and 1973.

“He had a sterling military career,” Frank Blazey III said, a career that included volunteering for Korea, where he received a field promotion from captain to major, and two tours in Vietnam, retiring from service in Germany as a brigadier general in 1975.

In 1975 he moved to Hendersonville and worked for Coca-Cola of Asheville. Blazey went on to work with a friend who established a manufacturing business for bottling equipment out of Edneyville, a job he held for about 10 years.

He was also involved in many organizations, including the Rotary Club, of which he was a 40-year member, the YMCA, United Way and Blue Ridge Community College. He was a co-founder of the Environmental Conservation Organization and served as chair of the Board for the Department of Social Services.

Larger than life’

Blazey is remembered as a humble, giving man who inspired others to be their best.

MarthaJean Liberto first met Blazey eight years ago through her work at Compassionate Home Care. She was sent to work with Blazey, she said, because she has experience as a professional chef. It started a “fast and true” friendship between the two.

Each night, Blazey and his wife, Joy, would eat by candlelight at 6 p.m. following a cocktail hour, Liberto said. It was a habit he kept up after his wife died in 2013, and the setting for some of the many stories he told Liberto.

She knew the first night she walked in that they’d be friends, and even after she retired last August, they remained close.

General Blazey

He was always larger than life, she said, and lived life to the fullest.

“He used to say ‘I’m just a Southern Illinois farm boy who got lucky,’” Liberto said. But he was much more than that.

“He is American,” she said. “He is what our country stands for and has always stood for. He was a true patriot and lover of life.”

Blazey loved life so much that Liberto would often tell him, “You’re my inspiration; you get up every morning and you do life and you help people.”

“As you can tell, I more than think highly of him,” she said. “I love him dearly and I said to him often, the honor of your friendship is more than I can ever have imagined.”

Jeff Miller, Hendersonville city councilman and founder of Blue Ridge Honor Flight, described Blazey as extremely generous, a man who was very proud of his service and wanted to be around others who had served.

“The bottom line is Gen. Blazey was just a one-of-a-kind guy that is really going to be missed around here by not only by the whole military family, but those of us who had folks like him to look up to and respect and enjoy being around,” Miller said.

Just last month, Blazey joined more than 50 other Korean War veterans and veterans of Vietnam and World War II on a Blue Ridge Honor Flight, flying to the nation’s capital for the day to visit war memorials, his first trip with the program.

It was a big deal for the general to experience that with other veterans, Miller said, after he missed q 2016 flight for health reasons. He got through the day, though it was hard on him, spending most of it in a wheelchair, but he told organizers often how much he enjoyed it.

Marybeth Burns, who first met Blazey through the Rotary Club, was able to accompany him on the trip. She remembers a “stern but gentle” teddy bear with lots of integrity, a generous man who gave so much back to the community.

She said that when Miller started the trips for Korean War vets, Blazey was among the first he mentioned.

Burns was supposed to accompany him on the 2016 trip, and afterward they made a pact that they would go on the 2017 flight.

One particular part of last month’s trip sticks out in Burns’ mind more than others. As she and Blazey were leaving the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, she noticed him crying. “It just makes me think of all those who didn’t come back,” he told her.

Burns said it was evident how much Blazey and the other veterans appreciated those soldiers, that they were on their minds the entire time. Blazey was able to lay the wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, an emotional moment, Burns said. For days later, he told everyone about the trip.

Liberto said his ability to see the good in people — and praising them for it — and to make people want to do better were some of the things that made him such a successful military leader. He was always giving compliments, she said, and not “that fake kind of compliment.”

He let nothing stop him, she said, whether it was cleaning trash from Mud Creek, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army or donating considerable sums to community organizations. “He was always willing to help someone out if they needed help — an employee, a worker, whatever.”

There are so many things that he did for others, Liberto said, “and that was his lifeline: service to his country, service to his fellow man. (He was) just an amazing person, in the humblest of ways and in the largest of ways.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows also lamented Blazey’s passing, saying the brigadier general represents the best of the country.

“When I think about those who represent the best of our nation, both in service and in sacrifice, Gen. Frank Blazey is among the first to come to mind,” Meadows said in a statement Tuesday. “Gen. Blazey was not only a military hero but someone who never hesitated to pour himself out to his community, including his involvement in the Blue Ridge Honor Flight program and his work on my office’s Service Academy Board. Debbie and I are saddened to learn of his passing, and we send our thoughts and prayers to his family. He will be missed.”

Blazey was very active until age 87 or 88 and played his last round of golf at 90, Frank Blazey III said. He also loved his children and grandchildren. He was married to Joy for 65 years and they had three children — Frank III, son Drew and daughter Kay, who passed away from cancer in 1993.

He leaves behind five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, with one on the way.

“This man was just an amazing man who loved people and loved life and loved this country and loved his lord,” Liberto said. “Everything you would ever want a person to be.”

A funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Friday, June 30, at First United Methodist Church, Hendersonville, with visitation from noon to 2 p.m. and a reception following the service. Burial will follow at a later date at West Point, N.Y.

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This compilation of stories will be printed and then added to Richard Byrd’s book. It’ll continue to talk with future owners long after I’m gone.

As far as those two silver dollars go, hopefully I can talk my brother out of his. I’d like to pass them on to some deserving youngsters; a couple of kids appreciative of things old!

Admiral Richard E. Byrd signature inside book cover (1930).

Author: michaeldexterhankins

ordinary average guy

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