Going to the library used to be a restful outing.

I loved meandering through the shelves, surrounded by the smell of books. Familiar titles called out like old friends, while the unfamiliar ones promised new stories and adventures.

After having kids, going to the library is a bit different.

They love stories too, and browsing the children’s section with them is great fun. But if I want to find something to read, well, let’s just say I’ve learned to move fast.

Last week I dared the history aisle with them. I knew I had about five minutes before someone got restless and wandered off, started fighting with a sibling, or started idly pulling books off the shelf.

Luckily, Lt. Gene Boyt’s slender volume Bataan: A Survivor’s Story caught my eye at once. I had been reading and writing about the WW2 tragedies of Bataan, and I’ve written before about how I love survivor stories.  I grabbed it and ran, and I’m so glad that I did.

Boyt learned early how to do without. He was born on March 29, 1917 in Houston, Missouri. His father, whose unpredictable work had just kept them financially afloat, abandoned the family when Gene was in high school. Gene’s mother scraped by with the help of friends, but the Great Depression left them wondering how they’d manage.

Gene found the answer in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a part of FDR’s “New Deal.” He worked building roads, and was able to save up enough for college. He earned his mechanical engineering degree at the Missouri School of Mines.

Since Mines was a federal land-grant college, Boyt was required to take basic ROTC. He enjoyed it, decided to take advanced courses, and ended up a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

In July of 1941, he received his first assignment. He was headed to the Philippines.

Boyt’s accounts make his early days in the Philippines sound idyllic. He met kind people, lived in comfortable surroundings, and he was given charge of engineering projects on Clark Field.

The Philippines is on the other side of the International Date Line from Hawaii, so Boyt heard about the attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 8th.

While he was shaken by the news of the attack, the threat seemed far away. He and his housemates sat down to lunch as usual, laughing as a radio broadcaster announced that Clark Field, right outside, was under attack by the Japanese.

Just to be sure, his friend looked out the back door, scanning the sky. They asked him if he saw any Japanese planes.

“No.” He laughed, as if the idea seemed ridiculous.

We were behaving nonchalantly with no sense of the severity of the situation. The adjutant lieutenant returned to the table, and dessert, a tasty pie, was served. I took two bites of my piece before the house blew up.” (Boyt 56)

So begins Boyt’s account of the failed defense of the Philippines. He takes his readers on the retreat down the Bataan Peninsula, through his eventual surrender, and then back up the peninsula as a member of the Bataan Death March.

Bataan American POWs burial detail

Boyt’s survival story could be pretty bleak reading, but his tale, though dark, has moments of light.

He writes of their captors forcing men to march without food or drink, then making them stand by sources of clean water without being allowed any. He also tells of the one Japanese soldier, who as he was relieved of guard duty murmured, in perfect English, “I’m sorry.”

He writes of comrades succumbing to cruelty in the darkness of their captivity, but also of Filipino people who risked their lives to leave sugarcane and water along the road to help the troops survive.

He writes of the horrors and deprivations of the five (yes five) prison camps he was interned in during the war, but also of he people who helped him survive it.

“I want to make one thing clear about my wartime service. I am not a hero. I saw real heroes in action, however – men such as Tom Griffin, who saved my life during the Death March; Dr. Van Peenen, the physician who did so much with so little at Zentsuji; and Major Orr, who risked his life in support of prisoners’ rights in Japan. These fine men, and countless others like them, deserve our adoration for their bravery and self-sacrifice.” (Boyt 219)

I’m thankful for writers like Boyt, who preserve memories of the courage and sacrifice and suffering of those who’ve come before us. If a copy of Bataan: A Survivor’s Story crosses your path, it’s well worth reading, and taking the time to remember them.

Many thanks for visiting!


Writing the (Gulp!) Love Scene

wedding photoI do not come from an emotive people.

I’m a Midwesterner by birth. The joke goes that there are three standard responses in our conversations.

#1: “That’s not too bad.” This is suitable for any event from neutral to amazingly super awesome.

#2: “That’s not too good.” This choice works for anything from a minor inconvenience to tragedy.

If choices 1 and 2 just won’t do, the fall back is choice #3: “That’s different.”

Take that and apply it to romance…well, an old Ole and Lena joke comes to mind. (Best read in a thick Minnesota accent.)

Ole comes into the house to find Lena crying.

“Lena, what’s da matter?”

“Oh Ole,” she answers, wiping her eyes. “It’s just…”


“Ole, you never tell me you love me.”

Ole walks over, and pats her on the shoulder. “Aw, Lena. I told you I loved you on our wedding day. If something had changed…I would’ve let you know.”

Ba doom, Ching!

It’s not that my husband and I are not affectionate, and it’s possible that we might be overheard using the “L” word, but we don’t generally gush poetry as we gaze longingly into each other’s eyes.

That much emotion, publicly expressed, is just not comfortable.

In the setting of a novel, I’ll admit it, a bit of romance is “not too bad.” Still, even getting a book out of the library with a cover that clearly indicates that it’s a love story makes me squirmy. Thank goodness for self-checkout…

Unfortunately, the catalyst that gets the murder and mayhem in my novel moving is (you guessed it) a romantic interest. If I wanted to write my book, I had to write convincing romantic-ish scenes. That other people would read.


I steeled myself. It couldn’t be that bad.

The first draft was…ok. I felt like some of it was heavy-handed, but I didn’t know how to make it better, and it sounded kind of like some things I’d read, so I went with it.

After substantial polishing, I entered the novel in a writing contest.

Guess what? I should have followed my instincts. They thought it was heavy-handed too. I got called out on the same bits that I hadn’t been entirely comfortable with in the first place.

Back to the drawing board.

With feedback from the contest and considerable editing, I found a few tricks that helped ease my discomfort, and (hopefully) improved the finished work.

Keep Dialogue Tight

First, I hacked and slashed unnecessary dialogue. Anything that didn’t sound like real life or made me squirm was deleted, and I discovered that the story didn’t lose any clarity for it. Allowing characters emotions etc. to be implied rather than stated strengthened those scenes and helped the story move along.


i love you more
“No, I love YOU more!”


Pick the Best POV

Second, I changed points of view. Rather than using the ‘love interests’ to narrate, I shifted POV to my antagonist whenever possible. He’s really my most interesting character, and his observations kept things from getting sugary while still letting the reader know the essentials.

spies David Sinclare

It’s All About the Characters

Third, I strengthened the characters. I knew the characters I was writing well enough to know exactly why they would end up together. Based on the contest feedback, I hadn’t conveyed those characteristics clearly.  I believe the phrase was something like “stock characters in main characters’ roles.” Ouch!

Since then, I’ve had a good time getting to know my characters better, developing them, giving them more personality and authentic emotion. It’s been work, but it’s rewarding to see not just the romance but all of the scenes getting stronger.


So. Have I mastered the dreaded romantic scene?


Plenty of authors handle that much better than I. BUT, I think I can safely say that I’ve come up with a story that fits my voice better than my first attempts, and something that I can hand off for others to read with greater confidence.

What do you like to see in a good love scene? Any tips, writers or readers?

The Fall of Singapore and the Bataan Peninsula, 1941-42

Welcome to another installment of my little history of World War 2!

As these accounts move into the early 40’s, keeping a straightforward, easy-to-follow time line becomes difficult. Europe was overrun, the Atlantic under constant U-boat assault, Britain besieged, Hitler’s forces engaged on the enormous Eastern Front, Rommel still vying for North Africa, and the U.S. and Japanese had just begun their struggles in the Pacific.

SO, today we’ll just focus on the Pacific, following British forces as they were pushed back towards their “impregnable” fortress at Singapore, and U.S. and Filipino forces as they struggled to hold the island of Luzon.

Bataan American POWs burial detail
U.S. troops on burial detail, Luzon

While in the U.S. we tend to remember December 7, 1941 as the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, that attack was part of a much larger plan.

Map with Singapore
Map courtesy of

Attacks on Guam, Wake and Midway Island, and on the British and Indian divisions on the Malay peninsula, left the Allied forces reeling. And these were only the beginning.

Del Shay, of the U.S. 192nd Tank Battalion Medical Staff, was stationed near Clark Field on the Philippine Island of Luzon. He recalls his first realizations that his country was at war in Frontlines World War II: Persoanal Accounts of Wisconsin Veterans by John Maino.

“It was at reveille, 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning, when we got the news about Pearl Harbor. Later on that morning, at about 10:30 a.m. they told us that Baguio, the summer capital in Northern Luzon had been bombed; now we were nervous. All morning our P-40’s were flying around up above us. We had B-17 bombers out on patrol, but at noon they all came back in for lunch.”

“I had just gotten back to my tent and was lying down for a little siesta when I looked up and saw this beautiful formation of planes- just perfect formation. I thought, ‘What a wonderful sight!’ About 30 seconds later the first bombs hit; I never even considered they might be Japanese planes.” (Maino 51-51)

Why General Douglas MacArthur, in charge of the U.S. defense of the Philippines, allowed the planes to be caught on the ground is, I suppose, a moot point. The unprepared United States forces lost 86 of their aircraft at Clark Field, compared to only 7 Japanese Zeroes.

General MacArthur, sans his corn-cob pipe

Shay further describes the chaos.

“Nobody knew where to go. Guys were running across the field…running all over the place…but where could you go? We didn’t have any bomb shelters or foxholes or anything like that.” (Maino 52)

Things weren’t going much better for the British and Indian Divisions on the Malay Peninsula.

The Japanese onslaught found them out-mastered in the air. Their naval support, already stretched thin, was stretched even thinner with the sinking of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales.

In spite of their best efforts, the Allied troops were pushed back, slowly, defensive line by defensive line.

Still, behind them was hope. The island fortress of Singapore offered safety, or at least a place to make a stand…or so the Allied leadership thought.

Unfortunately, Singapore wasn’t nearly ready for what was coming.

Back in the Philippines, Japanese forces landed on Luzon.

map with Luzon
Image courtesy of

Perhaps seeing where things were headed, General MacArthur moved his headquarters to the fortified island of Corregidor. The U.S. and Filipino forces retired toward the Bataan peninsula from the north and south. Men from the Air force, Navy, and Marines were reorganized to serve as infantry.

By January 5th, the underprepared defenders’ rations were halved.

In the words of Shey:

“Orders came down to pack up again, this time south into Bataan. We started marching with everything we had, which wasn’t a lot. The most pitiful sight you’ve ever seen was these Filipino women and old people sitting in the ditches crying, just wailing. It was a real sad sight. They must have known what was coming. We didn’t.” (Maino 52-53)

Back in Singapore, General Wavell, (who we last met in North Africa) visited personally in mid-January. The reports he sent home to Churchill were not encouraging.

Singapore was receiving reinforcements, but they lacked training. The Indian Divisions and Australian units were inflicting losses on the enemy and holding them up, but could not stop their advance.

Worst of all, Wavell doubted that Singapore could hold out long under siege.

Singapore had been meant to be an impregnable fortress. The island certainly did have good defenses, unfortunately, they were all planned for an attack from the sea.

The landward side, the side the Japanese were advancing on, was virtually undefended.

“It was with feelings of painful surprise that I read this message… So there were no permanent fortifications covering the landward side of the naval base and of the city! More astounding, no measure worth speaking of had been taken by any of the commanders since the war began…I do not write this in any way to excuse myself. I ought to have known….The reason I had not asked about this matter…was that the possibility of Singapore having no landward defenses no more entered into my mind than that of a battleship being launched without a bottom.” (Churchill 48-49)

On January 24th, as British, Australian, Canadian, Indian, and Malayan forces retreated to the ‘bottomless battleship,’ blew the causeway, and prepared to defend it, the U.S. and Filipino forces moved to their final defensive positions on the Bataan peninsula.

On February 15th, with food, ammunition and water supplies nearly exhausted, the troops at Singapore surrendered. The Japanese took 70,000 Allied prisoners.

Surrender of Singapore by General Percival
“Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival and his party carry the Union Jack on their way to surrender Singapore to the Japanese, 15 February 1942” © IWM (HU 2781) Source:

Meanwhile, in spite of poor rations, antiquated weaponry, and tropical disease, the U.S. and Filipino troops still held onto the Bataan peninsula. Their tenacity was admirable, but with no reinforcements coming the eventual outcome was clear.

On February 20th, the Philippine President evacuated. On March 11th, General MacArthur and his family left Corregidor Island, headed to Australia. Though the General promised “I shall return!” the fulfillment of that promise would be long coming.

General Wainwright was left in command, and the battles dragged on. In the beginning of April, the Japanese launched their last big offensive.

On April 8th, about 2,000 troops were evacuated to Corregidor Island. The exhausted remaining 78,000 defenders of Luzon surrendered.

The Japanese were not prepared to provide for so many POWs. The hungry, tired troops were forced to march about 60 miles north, where they were stuffed into boxcars and taken to imprisonment at Camp O’Donnell. On this, the infamous Bataan Death March, thousands of prisoners were beaten and killed. Thousands more died in Camp O’Donnell, in other POW camps, and in unmarked boats as they were shipped away for forced labor.

By May 6th, Wainwright’s forces on Corregidor couldn’t hold out any longer. They also surrendered, and were taken prisoner.

The beginnings of 1942 were dark for the Allies. However, soon names like “Midway” and “El Alamein” would hit the headlines. The conflict was far from over, but soon, the tide would begin to turn.

Many thanks for visiting!



Maino, John. Frontlines WWII: Personal Accounts of Wisconsin Veterans. Appleton, WI. JPGraphics Inc, 2006. Print.

Buell, Hal (editor). World War II Album: The Complete Chronicle. New York. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2002. Print.

Churchill, Winston S. The Hinge of Fate. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1950. Print.

Hyslop, Stephen G. and Neil Kagan. Eyewitness to World War II. Washington, D.C. National Geographic.




Purple Hedgehogs Can Be Villains Too

Is THIS the face of a super villain?

Can Father’s Day be next weekend already? Last year I wrote this post to tell the story of the writing project my children and I always embark on for the holiday, and to share some thoughts on creativity. I thought I’d share it again, as we will be off on this same journey this week. I hope you enjoy it!

I’ve just completed my annual collaborative writing project.

For the past five years, my children and I have assembled a comic book to present to their daddy for Father’s Day. They are the stars, acting as themselves and their alter egos, “The Super Kids!”

It’s been a journey.

It all started with one little 3 year old, who improvised a superhero costume and stood where I told her to. I took photos of her and the baby, and used Publisher to add some speech bubbles.

This year’s production included pictures taken ‘on location’ at a local park, and all three heroes:  Gargantu-Baby, Skater Girl and Skunky. (Yes. Skunky.)

As my kids have grown, so have their opinions, and their desire to direct the production. I try to keep it moving in plausible directions- no, honey, we can’t actually have you fly- but they do most of the creative work.

And it certainly is creative…

I wouldn’t have thought of a small stuffed rabbit being a ninja in disguise who secretly tries to trap us.

I would NEVER have thought of a giant, purple, spike-shooting hedgehog as a villain.

Nor would I have named my son “Skunky” and given him the power of shooting skunks out of his hands.

“Skunky” attacks the dragon.

It’s a joy and adventure to see just what happens when imaginations run wild.

Creativity can be a scary thing as we leave childhood. It means taking risks. It may mean writing outside of our comfort zones. It’s all too easy to lose creativity when we get caught in thoughts like the following.

“This is what my genre demands!”

“This is what agents want!

“That article said that the way I started my story is all rubbish! It’s OVER!!!!”

I’m not suggesting that all writing advice be thrown out. Still, I’ve found that becoming too fixated on ‘the rules’ rather than on the joy of creating a story can be crippling.

Writing would be much more fun if I approached it like my kids do. Just tell a story. Think of a fun plot, and go for it, even if it’s unconventional. Try a crazy idea, even if it’s not currently popular.

The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work, I had some fun, and I can move on to something else. And, if all else fails, I can just ask the littles for help. They have PLENTY of ideas.

What roadblocks to creativity have you encountered? How do you get past them?

Many thanks for visiting!


The D-Day Dodgers


Photo courtesy of Yoal Desurmont via

“Timing is everything” – cliché, but true.

Timing can mean the difference between success and failure, between ‘famous’ and ‘forgotten.’

Yesterday was the anniversary of “D-Day.” (I missed out on posting something for the day- thanks to those who shared stories and pictures!)

Did you know about the anniversary that took place a couple of days before?

Seventy-three years ago, on June 4, 1944, a military campaign that had dragged on for over a year and a half reached a historic milestone. The Allied forces liberated their first Axis capital: Rome.

Months of slogging up mountains while under fire, of crossing river after bridgeless river, of mud, cold, and disappointment, had finally borne fruit.

This momentous event held the headlines for one day.

Timing, after all, is everything. On June 6th the Allies began their long-awaited landings on the beaches of Normandy.

Of course, the D-Day invasions were extremely important. Years had gone into their planning and preparation. It was thrilling to have a foothold in France for the first time after being ousted in ’39. However, the Italian campaign, considered controversial from the start, was now definitely relegated to a secondary position.

Soldiers who’d spent years and lost friends fighting through North Africa, Sicily, and up the foot of Italy, saw commanders, troops, and materiel sent away to support the efforts in France. Loved ones sent them letters telling them what a relief it was that they were “safe” in Italy.

Perhaps Lady Astor, member of the British Parliament, wins the prize for the worst insult to the Italian effort. She named the troops the “D-Day Dodgers”- shirkers of the fighting in France.*

The response of the troops was so memorable that I’ve been caught singing it around the house. (This version- the clean one 😉 )

When I began my study of the theaters of World War 2 to pick a specific setting for my novel, I stumbled across this story and this song, and I stayed.

A few of the places of interest mentioned in the song:

“Salerno”- The first major assault on the European mainland: 4,870 Americans killed, wounded or missing. (This does not include casualties from the British 10th Corps.)

“Cassino”- The ‘Gustav Line’ of German defenses passed through the mountains by the town of Cassino. It took four Allied assaults over many months to break the line, the last being a huge effort of camouflage, false trails, and infantry assaults.

“Anzio”- This beachhead was established north of Monte Cassino. The attack stagnated, and the Allies were trapped on the beachhead for months. The American hospital area was hit so often that it was nicknamed “Hell’s Half-Acre” and stories circulate of soldiers pretending they weren’t wounded to avoid being sent there for care. The Allied forces at Anzio suffered 29,200 combat casualties, (killed, wounded, prisoners or missing,) and 37,000 non-combat casualties.

Statistics from and

* Some sources indicate that Lady Astor’s statement was due to a misunderstanding:

Thanks and God’s blessings to all who serve and have served, in the well-known theaters and in the ones we rarely hear of.

Many thanks for visiting!

Three Questions To Ask When Choosing Your Research Sources

magnifying glass

One of the biggest challenges of writing historical fiction is keeping it “historical.”

Since all of my current stories are set in the 30s and 40s, I’m required to know all sorts of minutia, from skirt lengths to cigarette brands to how to simulate silk stockings when there are none to be had. Research takes more time than writing, some days.

Finding sources isn’t particularly difficult. Finding trustworthy ones- that’s the trick.

The internet is full of information, some of it true, some well-meaning but mistaken, and some blatant lies. I enjoy scouring the library’s shelves for texts on my topics, but paper and binding aren’t a guarantee of accuracy, either.

It can be frustrating, but I’ve found that asking a few simple questions eliminates  unreliable sources quickly, and gets me back on track.

1. Who wrote it?

Photo courtesy of Braydon Anderson via

A quick visit to a site’s “about” page, a scroll to the bottom of the screen, or a peek at the sleeve of a book can reveal a great amount of information.

Is the author a primary source, in other words someone who actually witnessed the events they’re writing about? Are they an expert in their field? Is it a hobbyist who uses reliable sources they’ve uncovered? Are they affiliated with a particular group or philosophy? Or are they just a mysterious voice from some dark corner of the Web?

Personally, I dig for primary sources whenever I can. Diaries, memoirs etc. have the benefit of giving historical information, plus a ‘feel’ for the era. I pair these with books written by experts, especially ones with long lists of primary sources that they used in their research. (I may as well let someone who’s paid to do the research do some of it for me!)


2. Why did they write it?

Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson, via

Most writing can be fit into one of three broader categories: writing to inform, to entertain, or persuade. It’s helpful to discern what an author’s purpose is, because their purpose will affect the way they present their information. Are they going to just list carefully researched facts, or are they going to arrange  them strategically to try to elicit a reaction from their readers?

One key to figuring out an author’s purpose is to look at their use of facts vs. opinions.

A fact is something verifiable, something that can be tested and proven.  An opinion is a conclusion that an individual draws, generally from their perception of facts.

Canned Spam played a role as a food source during World War 2: Fact.

Spam is tasty if you cook it right: Opinion.

It’s almost impossible to write without including opinion statements. However, I ask myself, does the source use facts to strengthen and verify their opinions?

“She was a terrible girlfriend,” is one person’s opinion. However, if you tell me that the terrible girlfriend never silenced her phone during movies, vandalized his apartment, insulted his mother, and kicked his kitten every time she came in the door, I’ll probably agree with your opinion.

Of course, not all facts are created equal.

It’s a pretty clear sign that an author is trying to convince you of their point of view if they fall into using “ad hominem” statements. Meaning “against the person,” these statements use facts that don’t have any bearing on the discussion at hand. The goal is to tarnish the person’s character.

For instance, if “She was a terrible girlfriend” were supported by the facts that she flunked her seventh grade Social Studies exam and once got arrested for jay-walking, first, I’d wonder if anyone actually does get arrested for jay-walking, because I’d better be more careful, and then I’d wonder what those facts have to do with her girlfriendliness, and question the reliability of the author.

3. How does it compare to other sources?

Photo Courtesy of Eli Francis on

One day I was researching Rudolf Hess’ bizarre choice to parachute into Scotland, alone, to try to create peace between Nazi Germany and Great Britain. I poked around the internet, and found a site that seemed to have a pretty thorough account.

It didn’t take too long to see that the author was a pretty big fan of Hess. And it was odd that he kept trying to blame Poland for Germany’s invasion…

Oh. It was a neo-Nazi site.

It took me far longer to figure that out that it should have, but there were no swastikas, the site title and footer didn’t tell anything about the writer’s philosophies, and the writing tone was calm and reasonable, even using real quotes to back up his points.

Aha! The quotes!

The quotes were the first thing that gave him away. You see, I’d read the books he was taking the quotes from. He used the words of Churchill and other Allied leaders verbatim, but completely out of context, and in such a way that they supported his bias. Closer examination of the other facts revealed an unreliable source.

It’s essential for accuracy to take time to look at multiple sources, and multiple types of sources. (Don’t get caught by internet sites that just copy and paste from each other!) Not only can a broad base of infomation help us catch errors and false information, but different sources provide varied points of view. They round out our understanding of people and events. They make our stories richer.

Do you have any advice on finding reliable sources, questions you ask, or stories to share?

Happy researching, reading and writing! I’m off to research the effects of my morning coffee on my laundry folding skills.

Many thanks for visitng!






Facial Hair Friday Returns! — Pieces of History

Greetings, fans of history and of amazing mustaches!

Now I know, this particular post from the United States’ National Archives’ blog isn’t in my usual era, focusing on photos from the late 1800s, rather than the 1930’s or 40’s.

But, “Facial Hair Friday?” How could I not share it? I can’t be the only one who has viewed historic facial hair choices with wonder and amazement, can I?

I’m excited to see what they come up with next time…

Whether it be beards, mustaches, burnsides, goatees, sideburns, or the good ol’ mutton chops, every first Friday of the month we’ll bring you the finest facial hair from the holdings of National Archives. Why are we bringing back Facial Hair Friday? It is fate—two recent posts had photos of John Alexander Logan, and while looking at…

via Facial Hair Friday Returns! — Pieces of History


One Year

Can it be? WordPress has just informed me that it’s officially my one-year blog-iversary!

In honor of the occasion, I’ve baked a celebratory apple pie for all of us!


Unfortunately, they haven’t yet come up with an app whereby I can deliver pie to all of you via this site. Someday…

Not to worry. My husband has graciously offered to eat your slice, so that it won’t go to waste. What a guy 🙂

In all seriousness, thanks to all of you lovely people whose kind comments and interesting articles have made this year fly by. I’m looking forward to the next one!

Many thanks for visiting!



Memorial Day and Adam Makos’ VOICES OF THE PACIFIC

Photo courtesy of Andrew Pons on

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day the U.S. sets aside to remember those who’ve given their lives in service to their country.

Growing up, I spent a portion of each Memorial Day bumping slowly along winding cemetery roads.

If we were visiting Minnesota’s north woods, we’d also visit Great-Grandpa’s graveside, tidying around his and Great-Grandma’s headstone, making certain that the little memorial marking his service in WW1 was in place. If we were closer to home, we’d visit my mother’s father’s graveside, pulling out any unruly grass around the star commemorating his service in WW2.

My adult Memorial Days leave me with a nagging feeling that there’s something I ought to be doing, or somewhere I ought to be. Living so far from my roots, I can’t visit the old sites in person.

Of course, with or without a walk through the grass-covered plots, Memorial Day isn’t really about cemetery maintenance. It’s about taking a moment to remember those who’ve served, who’ve suffered, and who’ve sacrificed.

I treasure books that help me in this remembrance, that highlight the cost of the freedoms I cherish. One such is Voices of the Pacific, written by Adam Makos with Marcus Brotherton.

Voices of the Pacific

“On Monday morning, December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was at work at the shoe factory in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. I was twenty years old. I shut down my machine. The boss said, “What the h*** are you doing?” and I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m leaving to join up.” It was then that I heard other machines being shut down and guys saying, “We’re going too.” (Interview with Jim Young, Voices of the Pacific pg 3)

The December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on targets including Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, inflamed the American people.

As the United States prepared to declare its entrance into the Second World War, individual citizens declared their resolution to fight. Enlistment offices flooded.

Voices of the Pacific opens in these tumultuous times. It is a collection of memories of fifteen Marines who served in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO).

The book was printed in 2013- none too soon. As time goes on, the voices that carry these stories are fading away. The author sums up his goal in these words:

“What follows is not a sanitized version of the war. It’s the last survivors talking to you, digging deep and pulling out painful memories, gut-busting humor, and rousing accounts of American bravery, sacrifice, and old-fashioned goodness. Here they give us one last tale, one last time.” (Voices of the Pacific, Introduction page xiii)

The authors actually narrate little of the story. Rather, each chapter is set up with title, location, and a brief introduction. Then, the Marines speak.

They share their stories, and we follow them through Guadalcanal, Australia, New Britain, Pavuvu, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

I found the book’s organization very effective. The first chapter, “We’re In It Now: Pearl Harbor,” shares the memories of Marines Sid Phillips, Jim Young and Roy Gerlach, all of whom joined just after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Makos and Brotherton organized the men’s memories in short segments, so that they flow in roughly chronological order.

It’s almost like getting to sit in the room with these Marines while they’re reminiscing.

The subsequent chapters follow the pattern. New voices join the conversation as the narration moves to new locations, and old voices bow out as they pass the end of their service.

Of course, keeping track of who was who could have been confusing for someone like myself who has difficulty remembering names of people I’ve just met. However, the authors included captioned photos at the beginning of the book, listing the interviewees in order of appearance.

Voices 2

Like some of the troops’ service, the book does not end with the official end of the war. The book also shares stories of their (sometimes eventful) journeys back home, and how they went about rebuilding their lives.

As the authors’ quote that I shared suggests, this book doesn’t only deal with pleasant events, always use nice language, or gloss over the horrors of war that these men experienced (it’s not one for the kids!) However, as a glimpse of real experiences during an awful time, and as a remembrance of what these men suffered in service to their country, Voices of the Pacific is worth reading.

The final chapter, “The Last Words,” gave these 15 Marines a chance to leave a message for the generations of today. On this weekend of remembrance, I think that the last, a message from Marine Clarence Rea, is a great note to end on.

“I’ll be ninety-two soon, and I’ve got everything to be thankful for. A great family, a great wife, a bunch of great friends. I thank God that I’m still here…

My message to anyone is care about your country. America is a great country, and it’s worth taking care of.

That’s my story.”(pg. 378.)

Many thanks for visiting!






Musical Interlude: Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood”

Greetings all!

With end-of-the-school-year grades to figure, field trips to drive for, and kids’ plays to attend, (on top of the normal tasks involved in LIFE,) about the only thing I’m “In the Mood” for is a nap!

However, I wanted to share a little musical interlude with you, something peppy enough that maybe it’ll help us all keep going!

“In The Mood,” recorded by big band leader Glenn Miller, topped the 1940 charts, and was used in the 1941 film, Sun Valley Serenade.

Glenn Miller earns a mention in the history of the Second World War. Too old for the draft, he felt compelled to be involved. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1942, though this meant stepping away from his lucrative civilian career. He organized an Army Air Force marching band and a dance band, and performed live and on the radio.

In June of 1944 he and the band went to Britain to perform for the troops. He planned to take his music over to Paris, to play for the soldiers on the Continent.

In order to make necessary preparations, he flew over before the rest. Sadly, his plane was lost over the English Channel.

I hope you enjoy this fantastic piece of music. Many thanks for visiting!