Thursday, January 28, 2010

Premise of the Book

An early inspiration, Capt. Peter Benavage, my 9th grade Western Civ teacher. He was a Marine Gunnery Sgt. on Iwo Jima and taught us about it. Benavage was a huge influence on me. Because of him, I entered Marine Corps OCS (not with great success but that's another story), got interested in World War Two history, and I still follow his example of wearing a tie every day to work. Several years ago, we got back in touch. 'Cap' is still alive and well and last week we spoke on the phone. It was the first time we'd talked in 36 years. Cap's story will be in the book. Oh, and one other thing, I am now a 9th Grade Western Civ teacher. (This photo is from the 1976 Herndon Hornet (VA) Yearbook)

Why write a book about WWII in the Pacific?

Good question.

There are many reasons I felt compelled to tackle this subject.

There is no shortage of good books on the Pacific War, but I noticed a few years ago that the majority of books about WWII seemed to focus on the European War. Perhaps because it is more culturally understandable. After all, we were fighting people with the same Western background as ourselves. But the more I learned about the Pacific War, the more I wanted to write a book about it. I have no intention of writing a comprehensive history. That has been done. What needs doing is more collection of individual veterans' stories, because in a few more years, all these vets will be gone, and then it will be too late. My first interview with a Pacific vet was with a gentleman named Bill Harten, who lived here in Idaho Falls and was a survivor (though barely) of the attack on Pearl Harbor. And then, from out of my memory, came the face of my ninth grade Western Civ teacher, Mr. (Capt.) Pete Benavage, who took several days out of the school year to teach his students about his experiences as a Marine Gunnery Sergeant on Iwo Jima. All of a sudden, I knew it was time to write about the Pacific veterans.

The timing was right. I'd just finished an exhausting and exhaustive two-year book project on the 95th Bomb Group, a B-17 outfit that flew out of Horham, England in WWII. It was a huge project, encompassing hundreds of interviews with over a hundred men and women, plus the reading of all the mission reports, MACRs, and unpublished memoirs that existed. I had total access to this treasure trove because I was commissioned for the job by the 95th BG itself. It was highly rewarding and in the end, the book in its first version weighed in at nearly 200,000 words. Since then, it has been cut to about 160,000. Then we had to find a publisher and negotiate a contract. The book will be out, God willing, later this year, and our publisher is Potomac Books, one of the larger military publishers in the country. With the 95th project finished, it was time to focus on the next book. And there, staring me in the face, was the Pacific, a vast, blue ocean of uncharted (for me) history. I was a novice at the Pacific War, though I'd read plenty of books. I would have to start from scratch after spending the ten previous years becoming knowledgeable about the air war over Europe.

I had some excellent leads. From my other work, I had come in contact with some Pacific vets and had never had a chance to tell their stories. Several of them lived right here in my small city of 50,000. Anybody who thinks one has to travel far to find a WWII veteran with a compelling story just isn't looking hard enough. I visited a P-51 pilot in the nursing home, a Marine Navy Cross winner, and a B-24 pilot who flew long over-water missions from Guam to Japan, as well as the Pearl Harbor survivor, right here in Idaho Falls. At every turn, doors opened up for me to find more tales, thanks to my contacts from previous books.

The key to finding great stories is to have a working background knowledge of the war and then to be willing to dig on the Internet. Websites pointed me in the right direction. Many had emails. Several writers' groups I belong to on Facebook brought me in contact with other like-minded writers who then gave me leads. Then, it was a matter of sending lots of emails, making lots of long-distance phone calls, and travelling to visit subjects.

One must-do trip for me this summer is to go to the U.S.S. Indianopolis reunion in Indianapolis to work on the Indy chapter. With this Pacific book, I have no deadline, so I can work at my own pace. I don't have to follow any guidelines other than my own and the expectations of my publisher. That is in itself exciting.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chapters Thus Far...

1. Chapter on a B-29 bombardier shot down over Japan in 1945. POW. Survived the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo and returned years later to wage peace in Japan. Result of extensive interviews and correspondence.

2. Iwo Jima. Story of a Marine Gunnery Sergeant on Iwo Jima, who also happened to be my high school history teacher. Based on extensive interviews.

3. Okinawa Marine. Story of a Navy Cross Marine in the 1st Division and his experiences on Okinawa, his serious wound, and his lengthy recovery. Based on extensive interviews.

4. Navy Corpsmen. The Navy Corpsmen served on the front lines with the Marine Corps. Their story is one of bravery, heroism, and selflessness. Extensive interviews with several corpsmen who served on Peleliu and Okinawa with the 1st Marines.

5. Survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. The cruiser sank and its men floated in shark-infested waters for four days. Interviews with several survivors. I plan to attend their reunion this summer in Indianapolis for extensive interviews.

6. B-24 Pilot in the Pacific. A pilot flies long over-water missions to bomb the Japanese mainland. Based on extensive interviews.

7. Civilian Construction Worker taken prisoner on Wake Island. This civilian construction worker sent ou the last message from Wake before it fell, and then spent the rest of the war as a POW.

8. Pearl Harbor. Still working on this chapter that will feature interviews with several survivors.

9. Carrier pilots. Still working on this one as well.

10. Submarines. Still working on this one.

11. Merchant Marine. Still working.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Up and Running

This new weblog is dedicated to recording my thoughts and progress on my upcoming book, Untold Valor: The Pacific War. The book is about half finished at this point. Articles posted will include short bios, stories, and background, as well as reflections on writing about the Pacific Theater of War. Climb aboard your landing craft, close the hatch on your submarine, strap into your Hellcat, and join me.