Wednesday, December 13, 2017

It Happened One December Blizzard

Danz School had four kindergarten classes, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I attended a morning class. A school bus brought everyone in K through 6 to school, and at noon, a bus took the kindergarteners home.
That was fine, until one December morning, a blizzard blew in. Schools closed, and the buses came to take everyone home. That was not exactly fine. Used to a single bus, I didn’t know which bus to board. I got on one with my friend, Heidi. That was the correct bus for Heidi, but not for me.
Fortuitously, we were seated on the front seat. The bus driver quickly realized she had a misplaced 5-year-old. Ignoring the worsening weather and her busload of normal kids, she headed for my home.


I don’t remember if I was able to give directions. My sister may have had friends on that bus, but would a second-grader be able to direct the driver to an unfamiliar home? That remains a mystery. This was years before cell phones, and I don’t recall if the driver was able to radio to the bus hub.
My sister, of course, boarded the right bus, and had gotten off at our usual stop, a block up the hill from our home at the dead end. She rushed down the street, anxious to tell our parents that I hadn’t been on the bus. Suddenly, another bus rumbled down the street.
My dad had been in the garage, and heard a commotion outside. Looking out, he found a school bus in our driveway, and I hopped off.
God bless the driver who went the extra mile (actually, probably more like ten miles) to deliver a lost child to her front door.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The B-26

I chose the B-17 for my Promise For Tomorrow series because I was most familiar with big bomber. I’d read Robert Vaughan’s Touch the Face of God and loved it. The B-17’s crew of nine or ten men offered a supporting cast of characters for my hero to interact with. And it looks good. The other big American bomber, the B-24, was nicknamed the pregnant cow. Does that sound like an appealing star vehicle?
Although I didn’t know it when I wrote Friends & Enemies, other authors also featured the B-17. If I were to start over, I might use the B-26 Marauder, a medium bomber. The B-25 Mitchell is famous for Doolittle’s raid on Japan in April, 1942, but who’s familiar with the B-26?



The B-26 was nicknamed the Widow Maker. It required a higher landing speed than most bombers and demanded maximum attention to the airspeed indicator on final approach and landing. The motto at the main training base in Tampa, Florida, was “One a Day in Tampa Bay.”
Congress considered cancelling B-26 production , but General Doolittle proved it was a formidable weapon and needed only upgraded training and slight airframe correction. A demonstration of a B-26 maneuvering on one engine showed it could be handled safely. The plane was removed from the congressional hit list, and modifications were complete by February, 1943.


Pilots received better training in knowledge of aircraft handling and engine performance anomalies. Aerodynamic modifications increased the wingspan along with larger fins and rudders. With its improved take-off, landing, and handling, the Marauder gained a reputation for reliability and performance.
The operational loss rate of the B-26 throughout the war was .422%, best of any WWII bomber. Many of the planes flew over one hundred missions.
Few exist today. Only one, at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida, is flyable.
I like to highlight lesser known aspects of World War II. I missed my chance with the Marauder.

for further reading: Back From 44: The Sacrifice and Courage of a Few by Nick Cressy, an airman's memoir

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Like Harry

I like Harry Truman, so I was pleased to hear about a new book, The Accidental President by A. J. Baime, a great story focusing primarily on the four months between his rise to the presidency and the end of the war.


His earlier life is covered, with particular attention to his brief tenure as vice president. He served as an artillery captain in World War I. Before going to France, he and Eddie Jacobson, “a fine Jewish boy,” organized their battery’s canteen, or supply shop. They did a booming business, which gave him the opportunity to test for the captaincy. In France, he took charge of Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery, the most incorrigible unit in the service. Other commanders had failed to bring the men into line. Harry let them know he was the boss and never had trouble with them.
After the war, in November of 1919, he and Eddie opened a haberdashery. Then a recession hit. By the spring of 1922, they were out of business. It took Harry years to pay off his debts.
Harry had served in the war with Jim Pendergast. Jim’s father, Mike, and uncle, Tom, ran the Kansas City Democratic political machine, and Mike suggested Harry run for county judge. Harry did, and won. The county judges controlled the salaries of municipal employees, and typically got kickbacks, but not Harry. Honesty was the major plank of his platform.
When the Pendergasts suggested he run for senator, he agreed. The Pendergast machine got him elected, and many senators refused to speak to “the Senator from Pendergast.” The boss did ask him to vote certain ways, which Harry did on inconsequential matters, but he always sided with FDR. “Back Roosevelt” had been his campaign slogan.
After Harry was nominated to be vice president in 1944, he realized when he met with the obviously ailing FDR that he would not remain the vice president for long. When he campaigned for Roosevelt’s fourth term, he said, “Ask yourself if you want a man with no experience to sit at the peace table with Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek.” Ironically, he would be that inexperienced man.
Truman’s style is contrasted with FDR’s. He came into the presidency totally unprepared, but I suspect he did a better job than Roosevelt would have. Roosevelt was too willing to acquiesce to Stalin, whereas Truman stood firm.
One huge difference between Truman and his predecessor was how they dealt with their cabinets. Roosevelt enjoyed causing discord among the cabinet members and watching them bicker. How can you efficiently run a government that way? Truman surrounded himself with a team that would work together. He didn’t ramble on at meetings as FDR had, but got to the point and moved on, to the astonishment of the cabinet members.

Truman didn’t have the formal education expected of a president, but he was widely read, and his very ordinariness is what made him great.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ford Survives Typhoon

My short story, “Typhoon Prompting,” part of The Hope of Christmas, takes place during Typhoon Cobra. The navy’s Pacific combat fleet was caught in a storm that capsized three destroyers. One of them, the Spence, was featured in Wheresoever They May Be.
Among the ships battling the storm was the Monterey, a light aircraft carrier. Among the Monterey’s crew was a young lieutenant, Gerald R. Ford.

Gerald Ford, the jumper on the left, plays basketball on the Monterey's hangar deck.

Ford was one of ten gunnery officers and also served as the ship’s athletic director. During the typhoon, the ship rolled twenty-five degrees, causing him to fall and slide the full width of the flight deck. He managed to catch the two-inch metal rim around the deck with his foot, breaking his momentum and allowing him to land on the narrow catwalk just below the deck.
The airplanes on the Monterey’s flight deck broke loose as the ship pitched and heaved, and were swept overboard. Planes on the hangar deck crashed into each other. Fire broke out. The men raced to drag bombs and torpedoes out of harm’s way and dump them overboard. Smoke funneled into the engine and boiler rooms, forcing crewmen to flee or be asphyxiated. Three of four boilers stopped, and the ship was in danger of losing power.

The USS Monterey rolls in the typhoon.

Admiral Halsey ordered them to abandon ship, and ordered nearby cruisers and destroyers to pick up survivors, no easy task in a typhoon. The men of Monterey fought the fires for forty minutes and saved their ship. Three men died, forty were injured, ten critically, and all their planes were lost.
One of the survivors was Gerald Ford. Had he gone overboard, it is extremely doubtful we would have had a President Ford.


Releasing on Nov. 24, The Hope of Chrismas

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Say What?

In my role as a genre coordinator in the ACFW First Impressions contest, I check judges’ comments to make sure they don’t promote their own books or make disparaging comments. One comment caught my eye. The entrant used too many big words. Try writing at the fourth grade level.
I remembered that when I did final edits for The Hope of Christmas, the soon-to-be-released collection of historical Christmas short stories. An editor didn’t know the meaning of opined in my story, “Typhoon Prompting.”
Do you know what “opine” means?
I wrestled with that all weekend. I like the word. Otherwise I wouldn’t have used it. But the judge’s remark kept coming back to me. Readers don’t want to hold a book in one hand and a dictionary in the other. What to do?
Early Monday morning, before submitting my edited manuscript, I listened to the judge and changed the word.



The Hope of Christmas is now available for pre-order. Included are a prairie mail-order bride story, a WWII American woman doctor in London, and my offering, “Typhoon Prompting.” A character from Wheresoever They May Be shows up. Care to guess who? I’ll give you a hint. Who suffered a bad case of sunburn?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What Time Is It?


Did everyone remember to turn back the clocks on Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning? Do you like this exercise in futility? I mean, really, where’s the savings? You may not have to turn on a light in the morning, depending on what time you wake, but you’ll have to turn on the lights on hour earlier in the evening.
Daylight-saving time was imposed by the federal government during World War I with the notion it would conserve fuel. Hostility led to the measure’s repeal after the war. The federal government gave the states the option of continuing the time change if they wanted.
The majority of Wisconsinites didn’t want to. Farmers, especially, didn’t appreciate the havoc it caused with cow-milking and field work.
City folk were more in favor of it. Milwaukee tested of version of “fast time,” and the state legislature made it illegal to use anything but Central Standard Time. Some businesses changed their own clocks in 1930, and the following year, punishments were enacted. A businessman could go to jail for 30 days and have to pay a $50 fine.
“War time” came back with World War II. After the war, neighboring states allowed daylight-saving time, and many business groups pushed for Wisconsin to join them. Not until 1957 was the change adopted through a statewide referendum.
During the long fight to make the change, the Milwaukee Journal ran an ad, “For Sunlight’s sake…for Daylight’s sake…for Recreation’s sake…for Leisure’s sake…for Health’s sake…for better living, vote Yes.”

So the clocks have been changed. But it still doesn’t change the number of hours of daylight.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hank and Jim

I read a new book called Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart, by Scott Eyman. What an interesting book!


I’d always heard about Henry Fonda’s poor relationship with his daughter, Jane, but didn’t understand why it was so. I still don’t. Jane describes him as a pent-up guy, but his friendship with Jimmy Stewart was as intimate as he ever got with anyone. Together, they relaxed and had fun, which they couldn’t do separately.
They were both tall and skinny, laconic and shy, loners, with the same sense of humor―wry and goofy. They shared an apartment in New York in the 30s with Myron McCormick and Josh Logan, subsisting on rice. They attended art openings and gorged on hors d’oeuvres. Together, they built model airplanes.
Much has been written about Stewart’s war years as a B-24 pilot. Fonda served as an naval intelligence officer aboard the USS Curtiss in the Pacific. When a kamikaze was shot down and crashed twenty-five yards from the Curtiss, Fonda and two sailors dived on the plane and recovered maps and flight plans. Fonda determined the kamikazes launched from Pagan Island in the Marianas. An air strike stopped them.
Fonda had been aloof before the war; afterwards, he was remote. The silence during car rides or at the dinner table unnerved his children. He rediscovered his dad’s hobby of kites in the Navy, and began flying them, as large as possible, after the war. He’d be quiet and stressed until the kite was airborne, then become exuberant as a kid.
Both actors took a while to re-establish their acting careers. Fonda preferred the stage in New York and could go for years without making a movie. Stewart preferred making movies in California. Years could pass without them seeing each other.
In his later years, Fonda stitched complicated needlepoint patterns he designed himself. Most needlework on chairs and pillows in his home were his work. He also made macramé baskets. Like Stewart, he was an avid gardener and also kept bees.
Little is said about Fonda’s relationship with his parents, who both died in the 1930s. Stewart’s father never lightened up with his son, even when Jim was in his 50s. Many people remembered Fonda as cold. Stewart was easy-going, but no one really got to know him. Only when they acted did they show emotion.
Hank and Jim offers a fascinating look at two long-gone screen icons.